It seemed odd in retrospect that he almost certainly wouldn’t have learned about the boy until too late if it hadn’t been for Chloe—and her charming colleagues, who thought it was funny to tease him about the Antichrist being put on trial in New York as a serial killer. “Hey, isn’t he, like, your kid?” said Detective Flynn, a delightful fellow who was going to spend eternity being forced to gorge himself endlessly on donuts if there were any justice in the universe, which Lucifer prided himself there was. “Shouldn’t you be with him in his hour of need?”
“Detective, when the Antichrist does make his grand entrance, which I assure you I’d have to know about well in advance, he won’t be killing people one by one,” Lucifer said dismissively. He almost didn’t even bother to look: he was leaning against Chloe’s desk reading the newspaper article about their latest case—quite a good photograph of him, and even better, highly unflattering to Dan, who was in the back with his mouth gaping open like a three-day-dead tuna.
But he could only admire it for so long, and he did glance up at the television. Damien Thorn was being ushered past a forest of cameras, his face averted and half-hidden behind a hand, nothing but a shock of dark golden hair and a glimpse of bowed shoulders behind his lawyers’ suits. Even then, in a moment Lucifer would’ve gone back to the article without another thought, but it was a live feed. The cameraman’s shoulder was jostled in the crowd as Thorn went by, and for a moment the lens caught the other side of the street, where an old woman was standing in the shadow of a building, her face a familiar gaping hole of wrath.
The camera steadied in an instant: it hadn’t been long enough for a mortal even to see. But he’d seen. He stared at the television even as the program continued on to matters of such consequence as a football star’s drug use and a Kardashian’s weight loss, the small circle of pixels still holding the afterimage of Moloch’s face, whatever colors they tried to take.
“Earth to Lucifer,” Chloe said, as she prodded his arm with her pen. He flinched and turned to look at her—her wide, beautiful face, puzzled and a little amused, wearing the smile that stirred that endlessly strange and terrible sensation inside the hollow of his chest. And behind her all the ordinary activity of the police station, officers and criminals going to and from: the thieves and the bullies, the heroes and the innocent all jumbled together in one running stream of vivid living souls, and something twisted into a cold hard knot inside that same hollow behind his breastbone, where the muscles of his wings had once pulled tight.
She was staring at him, now. “Are you okay?”
“Perfectly all right, darling,” he said, because there wasn’t any reason to alarm her. “I have to go to New York, but it won’t take long.”
“You—what?” she said, but urgency was drumming in his veins, and he was already going. They’d said the trial would be televised; tomorrow they’d have Damien Thorn on the twenty-four hour news cycle, in front of all the nations of the earth. The humans would probably finish building him a temple before the trial even got to deliberations, unless they postponed it to fight a war over where it was going to be, first.
Chloe followed him all the way out to his car, demanding he tell her what was wrong, and finally seized his arm at the door. “Lucifer!” she said, and he turned and caught her face in his hands and kissed her. She made muffled noises against his lips, and when he put her gently back from the side of the car she was staring up at him dazed and open-mouthed, so startled that his chest constricted all over again. Abruptly he told her, “If I don’t come back, take Trixie and go to Maze. She’ll keep you safe. I’m sorry, darling, there’s no time, and you wouldn’t believe me in any case.” By the time she shook it off, he’d already pulled out.
He drove straight to the airport. He’d pick up a weapon at the Metropolitan Museum: there was that bronze knife someone had inaccurately placed in the Mesopotamian exhibit. It wasn’t quite ideal; he’d have to hack the body to small pieces and burn them after, but he didn’t have time to waste flying to the Vatican and fighting his way into the vaults to find one of the relics really meant for the purpose. What he was going to do about Moloch was another question—how had she even slipped out of Hell without him noticing?—but one problem at a time.
“I’m coming with you!” Maze snarled over the phone when he called to tell her where he was going.
“No time, darling,” he said, and didn’t mention he wanted her here to look after Chloe.
“You just want me to look after your fucking girlfriend in case Moloch carves up your wingless ass and the Antichrist starts destroying the world!” Maze hissed.
“To look after her and Trixie,” he snapped, which at least stopped Maze’s tongue on that subject.
“Where’d he even come from?” she said sullenly.
“Where do you think? He’s thirty, it must have been that honeypot the Satanists put out for me in Rome, back in the ’80s.”
“I thought you said the child was dead!”
“There was an infant corpse in the mother’s grave, skull staved in with the umbilical cord still on, smeared with the blood of a sacrificial jackal and the mother’s ashes. What would you have thought? It didn’t occur to me someone had faked stopping the Antichrist emerging into the world before he was fully born. That bloody fiend Moloch always liked killing babies, she must have told them what to do.” He pounded his fist against the wheel, seething, and shouted over the windshield, “Out of my fucking way!” The next seven cars all frantically swerved into other lanes. He accelerated into the hole and picked up still more speed.
The flight to New York took six hours, but fortunately his seatmate had a laptop and there was wifi, and he had all Chloe’s passwords for the police databases, which saved the time from being wasted. By the time they landed, Lucifer knew everything about the case, which was a bit peculiar, and not just because the Antichrist wasn’t killing people by the tens of thousands. A spot of murder might just have been Damien Thorn’s idea of fun, but after reading the files, Lucifer was reasonably sure he hadn’t killed at least half of the purported victims at all, since they’d had their throats torn out or been otherwise mangled by hellhounds, which had Moloch’s name written all over it.
Most of the rest had been murdered in perfectly ordinary ways—knives or gunshots or accidents—on occasions where Damien had an alibi, and most of the remainder weren’t even murders, they had just suicided in his vicinity, presumably to demonstrate their unswervingly idiotic depths of loyalty. Really the only two that Lucifer would actually have put to Damien’s tally were the ex-girlfriend he’d presumably drowned in a sinkhole of fury over being dumped, and the man he’d slaughtered with a climbing escalator for trying to get away from him. Nicely metaphorical, and neither of them remotely plausible as murders in a human court of law. Nothing in the case was, in fact. Lucifer had learned quite a bit about the boring niceties of the rules of evidence over the last year or so, mostly from Chloe shouting them at him adorably, and there didn’t seem to be the slightest chance of a conviction here, even aside from the dubious likelihood of getting twelve mortals to all convict the Antichrist after a few weeks of exposure to his presence.
It made sense Damien would want to put himself in court and in front of a hundred cameras, but exactly why the prosecutor was signing up to make a fool of herself and why the judge had let her, that was a more interesting question. Persuasion wasn’t anything like Moloch’s style. Moloch had never met a human being she didn’t want to kill and optionally devour, not necessarily in that order. Lucifer wasn’t sure how she’d tolerated their company long enough to tell any of them the way to conceal the child in the first place.
But the answer was likely that the same annoying cult of Satanists were still shepherding along Damien’s career, and they’d bribed everyone involved on his behalf. Fortunately, the cultists wouldn’t require any action themselves, once he’d dealt with the main problem, and as far as that was concerned, he now had the most critical piece of information: where they were holding Damien during the trial.
“Thanks, you’ve been fantastically useful,” he told Andrew, handing him back the laptop.
“Yeah, glad I could help,” Andrew said vaguely. He’d been looking dazed since the nice relaxing round they’d had in the galley with the first class flight attendant at the start of the flight, by way of thanks for the loaner.
Lucifer didn’t bother renting a car: not even the Devil could drive more unreasonably than a properly motivated New York taxi driver in the early dark hours of the morning. He had the man wait for him outside the museum, then drop him at the municipal jail downtown. It wasn’t any trouble getting past the guards: one of them nearly wept with pride as he showed Lucifer a photograph of his daughter who’d just been accepted to Harvard, and he’d no idea how to pay for it. The other had a desperate longing for cronuts and could never get to the shop early enough to get them thanks to his work schedule. A bit obscure as desires went, but doable.
They turned off the cameras, and Lucifer went down the line of cells to the very end, where Damien Thorn was sitting on his cot wide awake, his hands clasped and his head bowed over them. He slowly raised his head as Lucifer came into his view. “You’re new. What, Ann Rutledge decided to let another one of you guys deliver the pep talk this time?”
He sounded extraordinarily bitter. Lucifer paused with his hand on the bars, warily. “Is one required?”
Damien smiled at him, mirthless. “You know, have any of you thought about what actually happens when you get what you want? I’m just wondering what the idea is, pissing me off and then making me the ruler of the world or whatever this bullshit is about. Aren’t you worried I’ll hold a grudge or something?”
“That does seem irrational, but Satanists have never been particularly noted for logical thinking,” Lucifer said, with increasing dismay. This hadn’t been the idea at all. “Er. Are you saying you don’t want this?”
Damien sat up and spread his arms wide to take in the unlovely environs of his bare cell. “Why wouldn’t I want this? What about the colossal fuck up you people have made of my life doesn’t look like fun?”
“Well, this is going to be unexpectedly awkward,” Lucifer muttered. He threw a hard look Heavenwards. Of course that bastard wouldn’t make this easy.
“What, that I haven’t actually bought in to the plan of giving me dominion over all the nations of the earth?” Damien said sarcastically. “It hasn’t stopped you guys before.”
“Yes, exactly,” Lucifer said, trying to think. “It was all going to be much simpler when you were planning to bring on the end of days and I was going to dismember you to stop it.”
“Oh, so you’re not Armitage.” Damien snorted a short laugh, a vicious miserable gasp of a sound. “Well, it hasn’t really worked out for anybody who’s tried, but hey, maybe you’ll get lucky. Did you bring something along for the job?”
“Naturally,” Lucifer said. He took the knife out of his pocket and glared down at it and tried to convince himself it was still perfectly justifiable as a matter of the greater good, really, and he’d given the boy life, surely that made it all right to take it back, particularly since he’d been tricked into the whole thing.
Damien got up and came to the bars of the cell. “Doesn’t look like, uh, what is it, a dagger of Megiddo?”
“No, but in my hands it’ll do,” Lucifer said. “Moses used it on his own paschal lamb for the first Passover.”
“That sounds impressive,” Damien said. “Picked that up at the corner bodega or something?”
“At the Metropolitan Museum, actually.”
Damien nodded. “Well, like I said, nobody else has managed it, me included, but you’re welcome to give it a shot.” He took hold of his loose prison shirt by the collar and pulled it off over his head and stepped up close to the bars, bringing his bare chest into easy striking distance. He was quite beautiful, actually, as one might have expected, except for the sheer hopelessness dulling his eyes. He meant the offer, obviously, and Lucifer suffered an unlikely and entirely unwanted sensation of something like guilt—if only he’d been more cautious, if he’d investigated just a little further—
“It’s very nice, but put it away,” he said with a sigh, pocketing the knife again. “I can’t kill you when you don’t deserve it. Have you even killed anyone on purpose?”
“I haven’t killed anyone!” Damien snapped.
Lucifer raised a skeptical eyebrow. “That sinkhole certainly wasn’t anyone else.”
Damien grabbed the bars and snarled at him in seven roaring voices that tried to tear at the fabric of reality and his very essence, “I didn’t kill Kelly!”
“Silence!” Lucifer roared right back at him, knocking him back flat, and all the bars rang like bells between them. The mirror on the back wall of the cell above the toilet cracked, and the lightbulbs all exploded, echoes dying away back and forth against the walls of the cell. Damien lay sprawled out on the floor, panting and shocked. Lucifer cleared his throat a few times: he hadn’t had to really raise his voice for several centuries at least. He said more mildly, “Don’t growl at me.”
Damien’s chest rose and fell gasping. “Who are you?” he said, his voice shaking.
Lucifer heaved a sigh. “Your father, actually.” Damien stared at him. “See? Just like I said. Awkward.”
The first order of business was clearly to get the trial and the attendant cameras called off. Ordinarily, Lucifer would just have taken Damien and gone, but then the boy would be wanted by the police, and that would have put Chloe in a difficult position, since it was quite obvious he’d have to take the boy back to L.A. with him.
“You—run a nightclub?” Damien said, sounding faintly bemused.
“Sorry, not dramatic enough for you?” Lucifer said. “I thought you wanted to avoid this nonsense of the foretold war of the celestial spheres.”
“No, I do, I just…” Damien huffed a sudden sharp laugh and let his head sink. They were sitting together on his prison cot: the door had opened, of course, at the sound of Lucifer’s true voice. The guards hadn’t come to investigate, and no one else along the corridor had made a peep: probably all still cowering under their beds. “All this time, everyone telling me I was the spawn of the Devil, destined to— Half of them wanted to kill me for it, the other half wanted to help me do it. It didn’t occur to me you’d be the only one telling me I didn’t have to.”
“Well, you don’t,” Lucifer said. “You’re half human, free will all yours, courtesy of your mother.”
Damien didn’t look up. “Who—who was she?”
“I’m afraid I can’t tell you much. She wasn’t even properly in on it. If she’d wanted to bear the Antichrist, she’d have told me all about it, but all the poor girl wanted was a decent shag. I don’t think she was even a Satanist herself. They must have doped her to the gills for the rituals of preparation.” Lucifer paused. “She’s dead, of course. She couldn’t have survived giving birth to you.”
Damien swallowed. “And you didn’t know.”
“To be perfectly honest, I was in a rather dark place most of the twentieth century. Humans were getting so creative at punishing one another, I was beginning to feel a bit redundant.” Lucifer did his best not to think of it, but angelic recall was merciless: the hideous marching columns streaming endlessly in through the gates, the numbers so vast the road swelled wide for them, the faces twisted with wrath and hatred and envy, the hands red with murder, and then that single terrible moment, a heat-flash tremor and suddenly the thousands of unsuspecting sinners pressing up against the gates, still scorched in their own memories. He’d been so baffled, half wondering if the end of days had come without him realizing; he’d gone up and walked the blasted streets, the ends of his wings trailing through deep ash and the furious heat of radiation beating against his skin, like they’d briefly ignited a star all by themselves, and then again, only three days later—
He shook the images away. “And then humans started inventing all those lovely psychedelic drugs, which turns out work on angels, too. I spent more of the latter decades high than not. I did accidentally wake up sober one morning a couple of years after the encounter and realized there’d been something odd about it, but when I hunted up the mother’s grave, I found an infant corpse in with her, mocked up to look like someone had done for you before you’d been born. A very cleverly mocked-up corpse, actually. What did they do with you, shove you in with some ordinary mortal family?”
“My father was the ambassador to England.”
“Just so,” Lucifer said. “That couldn’t have ended well.”
“It didn’t.” Damien’s mouth crumpled with grief, his whole face tight, and Lucifer knew he was sailing right into a trap, the boy was designed for this, but knowing didn’t seem to help. Half annoyed with himself, he reached out and smoothed his hand down the back of Damien’s neck, answering some wretched instinct he’d never had before and didn’t want.
“If it’s any consolation, that’s not really anything to do with you,” he offered. Damien looked up at him almost desperately. “It wouldn’t have ended well even if you’d been a fluffy little Cherubim of crumpets and happiness. Human flesh can’t take proximity to the divine for long unless we take special measures, and you wouldn’t have known how. What happened? Did you kill them yourself?”
“I—” Damien’s hand came up to cover his mouth. “I think I killed my mother,” he said, his voice cracking. “I knocked her down the stairs, and she never came home from the hospital. My father—he tried to stab me in a church. The police shot him—”
Lucifer frowned. Come to think of it, he remembered the man: he’d come down through the gates with a glassy, almost relieved stare, as if it were better to be out of his flesh even in Hell. “Well, you saved her, at least.”
“She didn’t end up in Hell,” Lucifer said. “She probably would have, soon enough. I suppose that’s what happened to the girl, too?”
“I sent her away,” Damien said, almost inaudibly. “I wanted to keep her safe—”
“Well, there you are,” Lucifer said. “It’s not as though she could have been safe from you anywhere in the world.”
“Oh, God,” Damien said, covering his face again.
“Don’t bother expecting my father to be of any use,” Lucifer said, bitterly. “He’s never been to me,” and his words struck him suddenly, almost violently. He turned and stared down at the boy—whose shoulders were shaking with human sobs, bowed under the weight of the growing wings that hadn’t yet torn their way out of his mortal flesh; the boy that God meant to throw on the pyre of his grand fucking cosmic plan—his boy, his own only begotten son, and Lucifer found with sudden astonishing clarity that he didn’t care if it was a trap. He didn’t care if he was setting his feet on the road straight to the final unwinnable war, to the destruction of the universe and his own annihilation; he reached out and took Damien by the shoulders and pulled him up.
“I’m sorry,” he said flatly, words he’d never allowed himself to mean before, not truly: because if he’d let himself regret anything at all— “I’m sorry I sired you, and left you unprotected, but I swear to you now, I will never abandon you. I will never turn from you.”
Damien stared at him while he spoke, and his whole face contorted suddenly, shocked and hungry and desperate. He came into Lucifer’s opened arms with a convulsive rush and fell against him, shaking, hands clenched with terrible strength around his back. Lucifer held him as tightly, stroking the golden head. They sat in a concrete hole barred with iron, there was a stinking toilet in the corner under the shattered mirror, and the solitary surviving lightbulb in the hallway threw their wavering shadows against the wall of the putrid cell, covered with years of silly and vicious graffiti, but an endless howling agony in the back of his head had suddenly gone completely and blessedly silent.
He kept watch the rest of the night, while Damien slept in mortal exhaustion with his head in his lap. In the morning, when the new guard shift came down to take Damien off to change for court—looking around with uneasy confusion at the mess—Lucifer persuaded them to let him tag along with only a little effort: he was feeling quite ready to slaughter armies himself at the moment, and possibly some of that was showing in his face. “Excellent, now give me a dollar,” he said, once Damien had his wallet back. “I’m your new lawyer.”
“Do you actually know anything about law?” Damien said, half smiling at him, handing over the dollar. He already looked better, light coming back into his eyes. A few nightmares had made attempts on him, but Lucifer had shooed them away: Dream could show up and register a complaint in person if he liked, and then he could also go fuck himself.
“I’ve been admitted to the bar in every nation of the earth,” Lucifer said. “Although to be fair, I’ve never spoken for the defense before.”
Damien’s other defense attorney was waiting outside the holding area to ride with him to the courthouse, a well-suited man who’d done an objectionable amount of botox; he tried to put up a fuss. “Damien, I don’t know who this—what did you say your name was?”
“Morningstar,” Lucifer said, smiling. “Lucifer Morningstar.”
“Mr. Morningstar—what?” The man stared at him as it penetrated, with rather a bit more belief than Lucifer would’ve actually expected.
“Yes, that’s right,” he said, eyes narrowing. “Tell me, what’s in this case for you? What is it you want?”
The man stared at him, a bit open-mouthed. “I will prove myself and join the inner circle of Armitage,” he said, and Damien stiffened beside him. “I will have an eternal reward when the Antichrist rises to his throne—”
“You’re from Armitage?” Damien grated out, low growling in his throat, and the man blinked and then double-taked at both of them, his face going blotchy and pale. He backed away as Damien took a step towards him. The police officers watching the door both put their hands on their weapons, and Lucifer caught Damien’s shoulder, holding him back.
“It’s all right,” he said, and smiled at the man. “I’m taking over the case. And as for you—well, you can start on that eternal reward any time you like,” and gave him a quick hot look straight into the depths of Hell. The man threw up his briefcase and fled the room screaming in a blizzard of flying papers, shoving past the startled officers and howling mad animal cries that faded away down the corridor.
Damien was still trembling beside him as they went out to the car, though, simmering with reawakened rage and homicidal instincts. The cloud of violence was starting to be nearly palpable around him, and he was getting more beautiful with it; the driver was staring into the rear view mirror and gaping and not actually setting off—which was probably just as well at the moment, since Lucifer doubted they could go three blocks without Damien inducing multiple traffic fatalities.
“Right, come here,” Lucifer said. “We’ll never make it this way.”
“What?” Damien said, looking round. Lucifer caught him by the arm and pulled him in and kissed him. Damien startled under his mouth at first, but Lucifer held on and deliberately bit his lip, and scratched hard down the back of his neck, provoking.
Damien growled violently and slammed him down—and then immediately tried to pull back of all things. Lucifer grabbed him by the front and pulled him down. “It’s all right. Go on, hurt me. Come on, you must be wildly angry—here I brought you into this mortal world and left you to the mercy of a bunch of murderous clods—”
Damien’s eyes blazed ferocious blue. He put his hands round Lucifer’s neck, and then he jerked them off again. “No! I’m not—I’m not going to give in,” he said, his voice cracking.
Lucifer propped himself on his elbows. “How do you expect to get hold of yourself if you keep repressing it all? You’ve got to have some outlet for it. Now come on, stop being prissy.” He sat up and slapped Damien hard across the face, knocking him into the divider, and Damien turned back growling and unleashed himself at last, whipped an arm round and struck him hard enough to knock his head into the back seat with a thump and a jolt of hot excitement, and lunged at him. Oh, this was going to be fun. Lucifer laughed and pulled him down. Damien fisted his hair painfully and jerked his head back, baring his throat, and bent to graze his teeth roughly along the vein—
“Oh my God,” the driver said in a drugged syrupy voice, staring awed into the mirror—lucky he hadn’t turned round, he’d probably have been struck blind if he were looking directly—and Damien jerked back up with a hop and sank back into the far corner of the car, his eyes shut and breathing in gulps.
Lucifer dropped his head back against the seat with a regretful sigh. But at least the worst of it had bled off. He swung his legs back over and sat up again. He rubbed Damien’s shoulder. “There, that should hold you for a bit. Do you suppose we could get moving now? ” he added to the driver. “Try not to mow down any pedestrians if you can help it.”
“Yeah, sure,” the driver said dazedly, and set off.
Damien looked at him unhappily. “I don’t—I don’t want to—” even though very clearly he did want to, and knew he was lying even as the words came out. Lucifer wasn’t quite sure what to say: he knew about repression perfectly well, but he didn’t really understand it, himself. He’d have to marshal Linda to help, once they were back in L.A.
“You can’t simply defy your nature,” he tried. “You’re made for dominion and conquest, and if you ignore that, ignore your powers, of course they’ll all just go spilling out of your control. That doesn’t mean you need to go around unleashing them indiscriminately. You’ve managed to stay out of sight among humans for nearly thirty years, you must have found some way to satisfy your tastes.”
“I—” Damien ran a hand over his face. “I’m a war photographer.”
“There you go!” Lucifer said encouragingly. “I quite enjoy punishing the guilty myself. And you wouldn’t believe the number of people in L.A. who line up to have Maze torture them quite unmercifully, just for fun.”
“I didn’t do it because I liked—” He stopped.
“Well, why shouldn’t you?” Lucifer said. “Watching wars won’t get you into trouble. Starting them, that’s where you’ll run into issues.” He patted Damien’s thigh. “Don’t worry, we’ll sort you out.”
The driver took them round to the back door to avoid the waiting gauntlet of cameras on the courthouse steps. They hadn’t been turned on in the courtroom proper yet, although there were any number of them being set up, enough to hunch Damien’s shoulders protectively. He looked away over the spectators in the benches and his hands clenched suddenly. A pair of lovely young things were sitting together a few rows back: the woman raised a hand to him, unhappy and tentative, and the man with her was sitting with his hands clenched together in his lap and his mouth downturned and angry and worried.
“Mm, are they yours? Very pretty,” Lucifer said, approvingly.
“They’re—that’s Amani and Simone.” Damien turned away without responding to either of them. “I told them not to come. I told them to stay away from me.”
“Well, you can’t expect them to do that,” Lucifer said. “You’re the flame to their moths, you’re meant to be. Only those who fill their hearts with God can resist you for long, that’s the whole idea of the thing, like a filter on the coffee machine. God doesn’t want any of the nasty and impure ones let through, not after he went to so much trouble to toss all of us out. Don’t torture the poor things just because they prefer you. Shows good taste, if you ask me.” He beamed approvingly at the pair.
“Not if it gets them killed,” Damien grated out. “Not if I—” He stopped.
“If you don’t want to kill them, then don’t,” Lucifer said. “Admittedly, they’re fragile, but so’s a glass of whiskey. The answer isn’t pretending you don’t want a drink, you just need to practice not dropping it into a smash.” He patted Damien’s shoulder. “In any case, they’re safe enough for the moment, and we’ve other business to attend to. Keep your face out of sight of the cameras, in case someone gets ambitious and starts rolling ahead of schedule. I’m going to go have a chat with the judge.”
Damien nodded after a moment and sat down and buried his head in his arms on the table. Lucifer stopped by the prosecutor’s desk and perched on the corner. “Hello, darling. I’m the new counsel for the defense. I’m going to go have a word with the judge: why don’t you join us? I’m sure we can clear all this up.”
Her head came right up from the papers she’d been shuffling. “Is this some sort of joke? If you think you’re getting a stay for a last-minute switch—”
“No, not at all. I want the case dismissed entirely. Shall we go discuss it?”
He didn’t bother waiting any longer for her, just strolled out into the hallway and knocked on the door to the judge’s chambers before going in. The prosecutor was on his heels by then, and the judge got unreasonably annoyed at being barged in on, so it took ten minutes between the two them shouting before they finally paused long enough for him to find out that the prosecutor wanted to be the next Manhattan D.A. and had been promised a large campaign war chest by Armitage, and the judge had three million in gambling debts which were also presently held by Armitage.
They both got rather quiet after he wrung those revelations out of them. “My, my,” he said. “So this Armitage corporation has been running the defense, the prosecution, and the judge. What busy little bees they’ve been. Right, I’ll see to those debts, and you can be D.A. in, hm, two years, fair enough? And neither of you end up in prison for accepting bribes, so it’s a good bargain all round, wouldn’t you agree?”
They did indeed agree.
“Oh, and let’s have the cameras turned off, shall we?” Lucifer added. “I don’t think anyone really needs to see any more of this rather embarrassing fiasco, do you?”
They came back into the courtroom and the judge ordered the cameras turned off and removed, much to the dismay of the camera operators. It took half an hour to clear them all out, after which Lucifer told Damien, “You can sit up now,” and as he did, the prosecutor rose and informed the judge, to rising murmurs from the onlookers, that on the basis of new exonerating evidence, the state withdrew its case.
The judge dismissed the case and ordered the bailiffs to take Damien’s leg-irons off, although that was only just picking them up; Lucifer had given them a nudge under the table already. Damien stood up and looked at him with surprise and a shining relief that made Lucifer quite unexpectedly experience one of those really fantastic rushes of satisfaction. He had the dark suspicion he was smiling at the boy with a maudlin expression. “I told you I’d sort it out,” he said, trying to be a bit reproving: one would’ve thought Damien hadn’t believed in him.
Damien only said, his voice raw, “Lately a lot of things haven’t exactly worked out the way I wanted them to.” Of course, why would God have wanted to leave him anything like hope, and appallingly it only made Lucifer want to commit wholesale slaughter and also possibly cuddle him some more.
“Damien, holy shit, I can’t even fucking believe it. Are you okay?” The beautiful young dark-haired man had pushed his way up the aisle to the front of the room and was reaching for him over the railing. Damien turned and stared at him, and after a moment he took a jerking step closer and put his arms round him.
“Yeah,” Damien said, low. “Yeah, Amani. I’m okay,” and reached out to hug the young woman, too. They both put their arms around him.
Lucifer smiled on the charming picture, then turned and made a small nod of appreciation towards the prosecutor, who nodded back a little warily. A rather angry looking man was leaning over the railing hissing at her—oh, a police detective, Lucifer recognized the look. The man glared at him. Well, what did the fellow expect, trying to put the Antichrist in prison? Lucifer smiled back before he turned away. “Come, I think we’d better take the back exit again,” he told Damien. “The mob out front won’t have dissolved just yet. It’s all right, they can come along.”
“Uh, are we allowed to go this way?” Amani said a bit nervously as they headed past the large signs blazoned with SECURE AREA: LAW ENFORCEMENT ONLY in brash red letters.
“You’re with me,” Lucifer said cheerfully.
He was prepared to chase off any enterprising reporters who’d made it round the back, but the side street was empty. He took two steps down before it occurred to him they were in the middle of downtown Manhattan, and there shouldn’t have been a single city block empty during the hours of sunlight. He halted.
“What is it?” Damien said, putting out a protective arm to bar his friends, instinctively. “Some kind of trap—”
“No,” Lucifer said. The heap of black garbage bags on the corner was stirring, standing up hunched, turning an old woman’s face out towards them. “You’ll need to go on without me, I think.”
“I’m not leaving you,” Damien said flatly. “Who is she? I thought she was—you.”
“I should think not,” Lucifer said. “Her name is Moloch, and as I would hope is immediately obvious, she’s considerably less charming.” She was also a fallen Throne, and nearly the greatest warrior among the host of Hell. She’d wanted to take the battle back to the Silver City pretty much five seconds after they’d first hit the bottom of the Pit, regardless of the chances of victory.
Lucifer took out his wallet and slid out his black American Express and passed it to Damien. “Go to the Mandarin Oriental and tell them you want my usual suite. If I don’t come by morning, go to Los Angeles and find Mazikeen,” he said, privately hoping Maze never learned he’d volunteered her for still more babysitting duty. “She tends the bar at Lux. She’ll be able to deal with those Satanists if they try to fuss you.”
Damien looked at him with his face in stark lines. “Lucifer. If you—if you, after everyone else—I’d rather be dead,” he blurted.
Lucifer caught his cheek and kissed him quiet. “Hush, dear boy. If things went that badly, I’d just have to pull her back down to the Pit with me. But I’m afraid that would mean a considerable amount of time before I could make it back out. So if I don’t come tonight, don’t panic and do anything rash, just get yourself to Maze and let her look after you. Understood?”
Damien swallowed and nodded. It wasn’t a lie; it was exactly what Lucifer would have to do, except of course he couldn’t, since he’d cut off his wings and given away his token. If things went that badly now, he’d—well, he’d have to think of something else to do. There wasn’t another choice. If Moloch left here victorious, she wouldn’t kill Damien, she’d hound him all the way to the gates of the Silver City, broken and strapped to a wheel of pain at the front of the armies of Hell if necessary.
She was waiting in the middle of the street, now. He’d given her the chance to take the center in exchange for buying the time to get Damien clear, but Moloch didn’t have much in the way of patience, and she wouldn’t wait for much longer, even if that meant sacrificing the advantage. “Go,” he said, and made it a command, and Damien threw him one last near-desperate look and then turned and guided Amani and Simone away, pushing them until they tore their eyes away from Moloch, who sure enough was already unfolding her full self right in the middle of Manhattan.
Lucifer put his hands in his pockets and strolled down to the street, keeping himself between her and them until they’d turned the corner and fled towards the subway. “Moloch, darling, it’s been so long,” he said, letting his hand curl around the hilt of the bronze knife. “How have you been?”
The staff at the Mandarin Oriental didn’t bat an eye at being handed Lucifer’s card. They just smiled welcomingly and handed Damien the card keys to a gigantic suite on the penthouse level, and said discreetly, “Should we send up the usual?”
“Yeah, sure,” Damien said, just to get away. The usual turned out to be at least five thousand dollars worth of food and booze and a large basket of condoms, lubricant, and sex toys.
“Who—who is this guy?” Amani said, half-heartedly, stammering and looking away from the massive spread like he was hoping Damien wasn’t going to answer. His hands had been shaking ever since they’d been in the street with Moloch, and Simone hadn’t stopped shivering even though Damien had gotten a blanket out of the closet and wrapped it around her shoulders.
Damien poured her a double of whiskey and put it in her hands, and she drank it like water. After the second one she started to relax a little. Amani sat down next to her with his own drink, his hands trembling as he lifted it to his mouth. He’d followed Damien through some of the worst hellholes on the earth, and he’d never looked like this, eyes gone blank and inward, gaze hollowed out. “Hey,” Damien said softly, sitting down on the cocktail table across from them. But then they both looked at him, and he didn’t know what to say, to do. I won’t let anything happen to you was a lie when he was the biggest danger in their lives. He couldn’t even tell them to leave. His mouth tightened and he looked away, thinking about Kelly.
“Damien,” Simone said, whispering. “Damien, what’s going on? Who was—what was—” She stopped, and her whole face started folding up, her hand covering her mouth as tears started spilling from her eyes, and he reached out and cupped her cheek in his hand, wiping the tears away. Amani put his arm around her shoulders, looking at Damien with the same desperation.
“Don’t—don’t think about it, don’t—” Damien said, but even as the words came out of his mouth, he knew they were bullshit and wrong. That was what he’d been trying to do, all these months, trying to tell himself it was all a fake or an illusion, that people had made up all this crazy shit around him and he was just an ordinary person, and it had landed him in a prison with a trail of corpses behind him, monsters in human flesh and worse all lining up to use him.
He swallowed and looked away. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for any of this to happen to you.”
“What is happening?” Amani said. “Damien, what the fuck is—”
“I’m the Antichrist,” he said, flatly, saying the words out loud, cutting off Amani’s rising voice. They both went still as animals in danger. His breath came in gasps, and he looked away again, a sob fighting out of his throat. “It’s all happening, Amani. All this crazy, fucked up—it’s all real. And I don’t have any fucking idea what to do.”
“Come on, man,” Amani said shakily, asking him without words to take it back, to take it away. “Come on, Damien, that’s nuts.”
“Amani,” Damien said, looking him full in the face, and let his voice out—not in anger, not because he couldn’t help it, just let himself speak Amani’s name the way he wanted to—the way he’d maybe always wanted to, and Amani’s face went startled and wide-open as the lights all flickered and the chandelier hanging from the ceiling tinkled faintly, swaying.
“Damien,” Simone said, almost wonderingly. They were both staring at him. He’d never wanted anyone looking at him before; he’d always wanted the camera between him and the world, except now he realized that was a lie, too, like the rest of the bullshit Lucifer hadn’t given the time of day. He did want people to look at him, he’d just been so fucking afraid of what would happen that he’d hidden, as hard as he could, from everyone.
You’ve got to have some outlet for it, Lucifer had said. If Armitage had gotten their way, if they’d put him in front of the whole world, how long before he’d have given in to having everything he craved so hard pushed into his hands? He shut his eyes and swallowed and then he deliberately rolled his shoulders and let go and looked back at Simone.
“Holy shit,” Amani said, a little bit squeakily.
“I’m sorry,” Damien said, but he felt like he was—breathing, for the first time in— “I know this is crazy. But it’s true,” and suddenly they were both staring past him, and when he turned to look, a faint hazy outline was unfurling out from his shadow on the wall, in the shape of wings.
“Oh my God,” Simone said.
Damien swallowed and said roughly, “I, uh. I don’t think he’s really on my side.”
It turned out the world didn’t end when you told somebody you were the Antichrist. They all just sat there blankly a while holding their drinks, and then Damien suddenly realized he was hungry, hungry like he hadn’t eaten in—he hadn’t even had a glass of water in—he couldn’t remember anything, not since they’d arrested him.
As soon as he thought about it his stomach was cramping with hunger and thirst, like the human part of him had just woken up again and noticed he was literally starving. When he took the cover off the steak and the smell came out, Amani and Simone dazedly got up and joined him. As soon as they started they were all eating almost desperately, like their bodies were yelling for it, needing to rebuild.
At first Damien had almost been grateful when Shay had finally arrested him. The suicides had started to pick up. The last one had been the UPS guy, who’d come to his door and handed him a package and then said earnestly, “This is for you, Damien, I love you,” and slit his own throat with a box cutter, spraying the blood into Damien’s face. He’d been dead before Damien managed to get pressure on the slash, red pumping out in gushes over the hallway even as he screamed for someone to call 911. Nobody had called. He’d had to call the police himself to have them show up and take him in for it.
He’d thought they’d watch him in prison. They’d keep other people away from him. But they hadn’t. They’d called him a serial killer and they’d denied him bail and then they’d just shoved him in with the gen pop, like the cops were hoping someone would kill him instead of the other way around. They’d only put him in solitary after two more people had suicided. Last night, hearing the footsteps coming down the hall towards his cell, he’d been sure—he’d thought it’s another one, and he’d almost been resigned to it. Cold and dull and blank, just a few steps away from the way those bastards at Armitage wanted him to feel: why shouldn’t they kill themselves for him, why shouldn’t he enjoy their pain, the pictures they made going down, the bright color of blood and the way it stood out against the grey world.
And then Lucifer had—brought light, and Damien stopped halfway through the three dozen oysters and braced himself against the table and shut his eyes. I will never abandon you, and the roaring thunder of his voice, and the crack of hitting him, the shock of impact running all the way up Damien’s arm and through his entire body, reverberating, shaking loose every knot and tangle in his brain. He could be hungry for fucking oysters now, not for people to destroy themselves.
They demolished the spread, killed five bottles of wine without even trying. Damien finally shoved back from the table just as Simone stood up. She wobbled a little, and he caught her, and then without thinking about it he kissed her, hungry all over again. She gasped and kissed him back, sweet and hot, her hands gripping his arms. Amani was staring up at them, open-mouthed a little, and Damien reached down and cupped his face and Amani came up out of his chair with it and Damien kissed him, too.
They stood kissing, all of them, and somehow both of them were—kissing him, hands opening the buttons of his shirt, sliding over his chest, touching him everywhere, and he was half drunk on how good it was to let himself feel anything again. How good it was to let them—worship him, and that was fucked up in the same way as going to war zones to get off on the ruin and destruction, but maybe it could beat making people get on their knees for real.
“Don’t let me—don’t let me make you,” he gasped out, trying to hold on to that much. “Simone—Simone, if you don’t want—”
She pulled back and covered her face and choked out, “I shouldn’t want,” but that wasn’t the same thing, and it wasn’t enough to stop him reaching out to her again, and it wasn’t enough to stop her putting her hands back on him, lightly, like touching something delicate and valuable, an illuminated manuscript or an ancient relic, and he shuddered all over even though he felt a little sick, too.
“Hey,” Amani said, clearing his throat. “Hey, seriously, of all the things fucked up right now—” and Simone laughed shakily and kissed him. Both of them turned to Damien, and he groaned and stripped off his shirt.
He lay down on the king-size bed and let them touch him any way they wanted to, lips and hands tracing the lines of his muscles, Amani kissing him a little hesitantly as if he wasn’t sure he was going to be allowed—edging in from the corner of his mouth, brushing across his lips, licking in just briefly. Damien turned towards him and let his lips part, and Amani shivered and cupped his cheek and kissed him deeper. Simone was biting her own lip, a little guiltily, running a hand back and forth over Damien’s thigh, and he broke off and panted out, “It’s okay, Simone,” and she ran her nails over his bare skin, long scraping parallel lines. He almost jerked them all right off the bed, shivering.
She dropped tiny little pinches and scratches all over his thighs, his chest, even his cock, while Amani leaned pressed up against his side and just kissed him and kissed him, starving. They were both going glazed-over, flushed and hot and trembling, gasping for breath. Amani was twitching a little, involuntarily, his cock hard and pushing against Damien’s hip, and Simone’s thighs were wet and glistening, and abruptly she said, desperately, “Damien,” begging, and something deep in his gut shuddered with delight. He kissed Amani hard one last time and turned, caught her and pulled her down onto her side and slid deep into her, her thigh pulled up over his hip, her arms going around his neck as she moaned.
Amani pressed his head against Damien’s shoulder and said rawly, “Oh, shit. Damien, can I?” and Damien shuddered and said, “Ask nicely,” and Amani groaned and said, “Please, are you fucking kidding me, please, Damien, please, god,” not meaning anybody but him, and Damien had to fight not to come just there, even before Amani slid into him and he had them, he had them both, they were his, and oh.
They fell asleep in his arms, heads pillowed on his shoulders. Something in him lay quieted for almost the first time in his life, satisfied, and his eyes were stinging with gratitude and tears. He shut them, trying not to think about how he’d gotten to have this, and how badly Lucifer had been bullshitting him. He’d only gone because he’d felt how useless he’d be—how he’d get in the way more than anything. Whatever that old woman was, he wasn’t anywhere near that level, and even the idea that he’d get there someday was horrifying. But if Lucifer didn’t— if she killed him—
His mother had died because of him. Kelly, his governess—his own father had put him on an altar and tried to put a dagger into him. He’d fucked over everyone he’d dared to love. The only people who’d offered him answers had just wanted to use him, to turn him on the world like a weapon. Somebody he couldn’t destroy, someone who didn’t want anything from him and didn’t want to destroy him either—Lucifer’s hand on the back of his neck, saying he didn’t deserve to die, saying he could keep on living, he didn’t have to destroy the world. Damien didn’t know what he’d do if that miracle had been taken away again.
He’d try to kill Moloch, he decided suddenly. He’d go to Ann Rutledge and make nice and get some kind of weapon out of her, and then find Moloch and he’d do his best and go down as hard as he could, and he’d follow Lucifer wherever he’d gone, whether that was just to an end or to the pits of Hell; he’d follow. That felt right, somehow, and like something he’d be able to do. Something no one could stop him from doing. And if Lucifer did make it—Damien was going to figure out whatever it was he had under the hood, no matter how fucking scary it was, so he never had to leave him alone out in front again.
He jerked up when someone started pounding on the door, not a polite room service knocking. He slipped out of the bed and closed the bedroom door behind him and picked up a steak knife from the table on his way. He was sure he’d know if it were Lucifer, and it wasn’t: somehow he knew it wasn’t Moloch either, nothing but someone human on the other side. If Armitage wanted to try and fuck with him again, he wasn’t going to take it anymore. Power was shifting under his skin, settling into place like all it had been waiting for was for him to quit being scared of it.
But before he reached the door, another round of banging started, and muffled on the other side a woman shouted, “Lucifer Morningstar, if you’re in there and you don’t open the goddamn door, I swear I’m going to kick it down,” and Damien blinked and lowered the knife before he opened the door.
A tall blond woman stopped about three steps back from the door about to make good on her threat. She stared at him. “He’s not here,” Damien said.
“Then where the hell is he?” she said. “This room is under his card, and it was only charged three hours ago.”
“He’s—” Damien hesitated. If she knew Lucifer— “Are you Maze?”
“Detective Chloe Decker, LAPD,” she said, frowning.
“Because he likes to punish evildoers,” Damien said abruptly, remembering, and Decker straightened and looked a little less suspicious.
“Where is he?” she demanded. “He took off out of L.A. like someone lit a fire under him. Did he—do you know him?”
“He’s—he’s my father,” Damien said, and she gawked at him with an expression that went from shock to a kind of resigned indignation, and then right back to suspicious.
“The hell he is,” she said. “You can’t be less than twenty.”
“I’m thirty,” he said, confused, and then he realized—“You don’t know.”
“Know what,” she said, and then, “Oh, no. No.” She pulled back, hand going to the holster under her arm, pulling a gun. “You’re that serial killer who thinks he’s the Antichrist. Hands up and get on the floor now.”
Damien looked away and blew out a breath. He had no idea what to say. He would’ve gone with that explanation himself, if he had the choice. “Okay, first of all, I’m not a serial killer, and I’ve been cleared—”
“Oh, really,” she said sharply. “Did he do that? He got you off, didn’t he. I swear to god, if you haven’t chopped him up and put him in a Dumpster somewhere, I’m going to kick his crazy ass. Where is he?”
Damien rubbed a hand over his face. “I’m guessing you won’t believe that either.”
Her mouth pressed tight. “Let me make this simple for you. Where was the last place you saw him?” but before he could answer, there was a sudden brightening light coming in through the window. He whirled and saw a pillar of fire blazing, a line drawn straight down from the sky to the tip of Manhattan, incandescent like looking directly at the sun, turning the grey clouds to the color of flame. A few terrible moments later the whole earth beneath them shuddered, trembling, like waves rippling out from impact.
It turned out that spending a century mostly high and cutting off your own wings wasn’t really the best preparation for a battle to the death against the worst of the Thrones. Lucifer evened the odds up a bit by carving a nice gaping hole in Moloch’s intestines right at the start of the fight, before the bronze knife dissolved in her blood like butter melting in a skillet. After that, things went rather downhill.
He spent the better part of three hours on the defensive, protecting his inconveniently vulnerable back after she managed to make him scream with agony by raking her claws across his scarred shoulders. The pain was quite literally blinding; he had to fling himself away to get out of range, blundering into a streetlamp and a hydrant, a massive gout of water fountaining up as he tore it accidentally out of the street. The haze of agony cleared barely in time for him to roll out of the way of her leaping upon him, so hard she smashed down through the street and left a gaping hole full of smashed pipes and sparking wires.
She wasn’t stupid: after that she was constantly going for the weak spot, and he kept taking hits having to protect it. Even his endurance started to wear away after a while. He did manage to score another hit on her gut by pretending to stumble and luring her into a too-risky strike, but he couldn’t follow up—he was tired enough by then that she managed to wrench loose from his grappling hold, covering her gaping belly with a hand and grinning savagely as she backed away, taunting, as much as to say it doesn’t matter, I know I have you. He was starting to have the uncomfortable feeling she was right.
He fought on grimly, watching for a mistake she almost certainly wouldn’t make, and in the end, he was the one who made it: she moved fractionally too slow, twisting away, and he realized too late it was a trick of her own. He had already half turned the other way to try and seize her, and before he could halt the movement she’d flung half a dozen loops of her own intestines round his throat and dragged him to the ground.
She was howling with agony even as she pulled them strangling-tight, as he clawed at them, but she didn’t let the noose slacken. She was standing over him, her face a grimace of pain and mad furious satisfaction, her eyes shining with bloodlust and joy as she greedily watched his increasingly desperate struggles. Oblivion was stealing over him like an invitation, a promise of rest and final relief. Was this how mortals felt, when they died? It seemed surprisingly kind. Not like falling at all.
He’d fallen in agony, trailing smoke and flame all the way down to the pit, the wailing of his host filling his ears as they too fell, the barren smoking crags of Hell rearing up around him for their own eternity until he’d crashed into their final stillness. Nothing had ever burned him before. Once he’d stood in the heart of newborn stars he’d ignited with his own hands, armored in the Word, in unquestioning faith, and the deepest fire had never touched him. But the flaming sword in Michael’s hand had burned him, and he’d never stopped burning since, his very flesh still smoldering like hot coals, like the pit all around him, endless agony.
He’d ceased to be the Lightbringer, after. He’d recoiled from the cosmos and left the stars to themselves. He didn’t even know if he could reach them anymore, and he’d never been able to bring himself to find out, all these ages. He hadn’t been able to bear learning if God had shut that door to him, like all the others.
I will never abandon you, he’d sworn.
Moloch was twisting the loops around tighter, her own blood dripping around his hands. The cool dark called, welcoming. Lucifer closed his hands around the cords and crushed them together, opened up just enough room as she shrieked to drag in a slight breath, thick with leaking gas and smoke. He looked up at her snarling bestial face, a mirror of his own ancient agonies. Though he couldn’t get enough air to speak, he mouthed, I’m sorry, gave her that much. He found he could be sorry, now, for what she’d suffered for following him: as though his own pain had eased enough to recognize another’s. For one moment she stared down at him, and the savagery broke; for one moment, he thought, she also might have heard only silence.
Then he called the Light, and the world incinerated between his hands.
He opened his eyes again mostly dazed and completely naked, in the middle of what he first thought was a cloud and then realized was merely the steam from an increasingly large puddle of boiling water establishing new high-water marks on his hips and shoulders. He lurched up sitting. A steady stream of water was running down a smooth wall of new-formed rock—the hydrant above still gushing, evidently—and the stones had cooled just enough that it wasn’t all boiling off before it gathered in the basin.
He managed to climb out of the hole with an undignified scramble he was just as glad there was no one else around to witness. The polished crater filled the width of the street, but had tidily missed the buildings on either side: well done, Lucifer, full marks. He rinsed off in the gush from the hydrant until he stopped steaming, and then staggered down the block and away. There were sirens wailing, coming nearer.
People on the neighboring blocks were mostly still cringing and hiding, except for the handful of would-be heroes running towards the climbing plume of steam. “No one’s hurt,” he called after a couple of them. “You might as well stay where you are and keep it that way.” They weren’t listening, though, so he shrugged and reached into a shattered shop window and pulled out a large piece of glittery blue lamé fabric that had been used to drape under the electronic equipment on display, all of which had also shattered.
No one looked twice at him on the subway once he’d covered up the naughty bits—well, that wasn’t true at all, of course; everyone looked twice at him, but not with objections—and thankfully it was a straight shot. “Darling, would you mind giving me a nudge when we hit Columbus Circle?” he asked his neighbor, an extremely pleased elderly lady who had put down her heap of knitting to better enjoy the view from her seat.
“Not at all,” she said, and patted his arm, somewhat lingeringly. He smiled at her and tipped his head back against the wall and dozed the entire way.
The staff at the Mandarin Oriental promised him a fresh wardrobe within the day, and he dragged himself upstairs, thinking rather longingly of bed, and pushed open the door and halted. “Detective,” he said, blinking, “whatever are you doing?” because she had a gun pointed at Damien. “First of all, that won’t work, and second of all—”
He didn’t get to second of all, because she gasped and ran over to throw her arms round him, which was enough to nearly knock him over. He did lose the blue lamé entirely. “What happened to you?” she demanded, running her hands all over his body, unfairly, of course she’d do it now when he wasn’t remotely able to enjoy it properly. “Are you okay? Were you near the blast—”
“I was the blast, darling,” he said, wobbling, and gratefully caught Damien’s shoulder when the boy slid a supportive arm round him. “You know, on further consideration, I think I’ll settle for the couch,” and sank flat onto it with a groan when Damien steered him over, levering his legs up onto it one after another. “I don’t suppose you asked for them to send up the special, instead of the usual?” The special included a handsome quantity of heroin, which he could really have gone for right about now, but sadly the answer was no. Damien immediately handed him a brimming glass of single malt, however—what a charming boy he was—and Lucifer felt a good deal better after downing it.
Chloe less helpfully put a blanket over him. “Okay,” she said, when Damien had gone to the bathroom to bring him a washcloth, “Lucifer, tell me that you get that this guy is not actually your son.”
“Chloe, dearest,” Lucifer murmured indulgently, already closing his eyes. He couldn’t muster up the energy to say anything more, just brought her hand to his lips and kissed it briefly, and that was the last he knew until the glorious entwined smells of bacon and coffee roused him in the morning.
Damien crouched down by his head. “Hey,” he said softly, his voice a little rough. “Do you want anything?”
“I want everything,” Lucifer said firmly. He put out a hand and cupped Damien’s face and kissed him—mm, he’d been drinking the coffee, which was clearly up to standard—and then got himself upright to find Chloe and Damien’s two adorable followers all staring at them.
“Okay, so if he’s not your son, why are you helping him?” Chloe hissed after breakfast, when he’d stretched himself out in the master bedroom to do a little more recovering with the rest of the bottle of forty-year-old Scotch and his favorite view all the way down the length of Manhattan. There were still a rather inordinate number of emergency vehicles gathered in the far distance, creating a Christmas-tree effect of blinking lights visible even from here. The authorities were calling it a gas main explosion, somewhat doubtfully, but that was their problem.
Speaking of which, “He is my son,” Lucifer said. “I’m sorry you have such difficulty accepting that I’m the Devil, darling, but I’m not going to lie to you just to help you deceive yourself. Oh, what now?”
She was staring at him. “Five seconds ago you were halfway to his tonsils.”
“You haven’t the least grounds for jealousy,” he said firmly. “I’ve made perfectly clear that anytime you’re interested—”
She made an inarticulate high-pitched noise of frustration and pressed her hands to the sides of her face. “Why do I even try.” She stomped out of the room, giving Damien a glare as she passed him in the doorway.
“I don’t understand humans sometimes,” Lucifer said to him in some annoyance. “Having thrown myself over here at breakneck pace and risked immortal life and limb to save her and her spawn from the destruction of civilization, it seems to me a smidgen of gratitude wouldn’t be misplaced.”
Damien had sat down on the bed next to him. His mouth quirked a little, and he said quietly, “Thank you.”
It wasn’t anything like perfunctory. He might as well have bent the knee and sworn to follow him to the ends of existence. Lucifer sat up and gripped the boy’s shoulders, half in protest. Maybe he’d only carried out the next step in God’s vicious fucking plan after all: he was sharply, terribly certain if he asked Damien to put on armor and lead his armies to the gates of Heaven, Damien would do it. Maybe there wasn’t any way out at all.
“I know,” Damien said, as if Lucifer had spoken, looking at him steadily. “But I don’t fucking care. I’m with you. However it ends.” He leaned in and caught his mouth, pressing him backwards down to the bed, wordlessly asking.
Lucifer let him, helplessly, his eyes stinging; he couldn’t imagine wanting to refuse him anything. Hell was as far from God’s seat as anyone could get in all Creation, but he’d never felt so utterly distant from Him before, as though the yawning chasm had gone a thousand times more deep and incomprehensible. Maybe if you had more children, you could cast the occasional black sheep aside without giving yourself too much trouble over it. He certainly hadn’t wanted to feel anything like this. But he’d been prised open, utterly, and now he couldn’t imagine any crime Damien could commit, anything he could want—
Not that Lucifer had the slightest objection to anything he wanted at the moment. Damien was pinning his wrists against the bed, working savage hungry biting kisses along his throat. “You’re going to be disappointed if you want me putting up any resistance, though,” Lucifer said, a warning: he was entirely willing in theory, but he didn’t think he could put up much of a fight right now.
“I can live with that,” Damien said, seven voices growling against his skin. “As long as you’re ready to take it.” The room was dimming around them, the mortal world fading out against the light and violence starting somewhere beneath his skin, the shadow of wings taking shape against the ceiling.
“Oh my,” Lucifer purred appreciatively, and gasped as Damien surged over him. Damien might not have reached his full power yet, but it was coming in, running like a subterranean river beneath the very thinnest skin of rock, and Lucifer could feel it thrumming where Damien’s hands gripped his wrists, where his thighs pressed heavily against his own. “Darling boy,” he gasped again as Damien entered him, thrusting in with exquisite strength, but so very slowly. “I am ready. Come on, don’t be shy about it.”
Damien laughed, breathless, and then slid his hands beneath him and heaved him up and onto his cock, impaling him fully in a properly diabolical stroke that landed very much like five lines of very good cocaine followed by a head-on collision with an eighteen-wheeler.
“Oh, fuck me,” Lucifer said, marveling, and though he hadn’t meant to even try to do any work, he seized Damien’s head by the hair and pulled it back and bent down to kiss him brutally. Damien kissed him back, deep and devouring, gripping him by the shoulders and pulling him down harder, his hips rocking up.
Lucifer groaned as he rode the swell of Damien’s body, clenching upon him. They moved together, finding harmony. The sensation of physical penetration tangled exquisitely with the insistent pressure of Damien’s rising power, demanding its own conquest and possession. He’d certainly never considered letting anyone put that in him, an entirely different level of trust, but oh, he was going to now, and Damien’s breath began to come as almost a desperate whine as he understood he was going to be allowed in.
“You’re going to have to work for that, though,” Lucifer said, breathless, and Damien growled and rolled them forward again and set about it at once.
“By the way, I’m guessing it’s the incest,” Damien said, a considerable time afterwards. He was lying with his eyes closed beside him, still panting, an arm behind his head.
Lucifer just managed to crane his head out of the pillows. Oh, he was fantastically fucked. He’d only rarely had the pleasure of taking it from another angel. Most of the Fallen went in for pure wrath, and anyway there weren’t really that many of them whom he could trust not to stab him in the middle of a fuck. Disloyalty had been a necessary precondition, after all. “That’s absurd, and anyway she doesn’t believe I’m your father! Which is its own absurdity.”
“She thinks you believe it,” Damien said.
“So she doesn’t believe I’m the Devil, and doesn’t believe I’m your father, she thinks I’m only a lunatic, but she objects to my banging you anyway, because if I were, I’d be breaking some mortal taboo.” He meant it skeptically, but as soon as the words came out, he recognized that sounded like exactly the sort of tangle Chloe would get herself into rather than believing the perfectly obvious truth he’d been telling her for the better part of a year. “Yes, of course. Naturally.” He sighed.
“Maybe I should be more weirded out about this,” Damien remarked.
“Don’t you start,” Lucifer said, and let his head sink back down into the pillows.
He walked into the Armitage building with Damien at his right hand, already so natural there it felt as if he’d just been inexplicably missing from the place throughout all the rest of Time. The young woman at the front desk smiled professionally. “Can I help you?” she said, and then froze into rigidity as she saw Damien behind him.
Lucifer smiled back at her and leaned on the reception desk. “Yes, darling. I imagine there’s quite the panic and disarray among the upper echelons at the moment. Are they having an enormous tedious conference in a large room somewhere? That seems to be the sort of thing you lot would do in the midst of crisis.”
The meeting was indeed taking place in a large windowed room on the forty-seventh floor, crammed full of everyone who could possibly have been blamed for any unfortunate situation. “So here’s the center of the hive,” Lucifer said, pushing open the door. “Hello, everyone. Glad to find you gathered together all in one place conveniently like this.” He strolled to the head of the room. They were all staring at Damien, of course, who’d parked himself against the doorframe, folding his arms, blocking the exit.
A dark-haired woman stood up from near the head of the table. “Damien, I’ve been so worried.”
“Well, that’s interesting,” Lucifer said, because oddly enough, she really meant it. “Damien, do you know this one?”
“That’s Ann Rutledge,” Damien said, grimly.
She turned from Damien and regarded him with the steely cold of a true believer. One ran into them occasionally—endlessly annoying sorts, saints and such. They’d always been on the other side, though. Well, there was also the occasional Buddhist who managed to think their way out of Creation entirely—which Lucifer hated even more since he had no idea how they did it or where they even went—but he’d never met a saint of Hell before.
Well, if Jesus got to have a whole gaggle following after him, no reason Damien oughtn’t. There certainly wasn’t any doubt about her fanatic devotion. “No need for you to worry,” Lucifer told her. “I’ve got the boy in hand now, nothing more’s going to happen to him. Tell me, whose idea was this trial? It wasn’t yours, I gather.”
She was starting to truly recognize him, understanding filtering gradually past the gatekeepers of her mortal consciousness. “Damien clearly wasn’t prepared to be exposed yet,” she said. “I objected to the attempt to force the situation, but I was overruled,” with a pointed look leveled at the old man at the head of the table.
She smiled, thin and angry. “I’ve been confined for the last three months. They only let me out again this morning, after the incident downtown threw them into a panic.”
“Now, Ann, let’s not start airing dirty laundry, shall we,” the old man said. He was one of those boring white-bearded patriarch sorts, the kind Father often went for; why, Lucifer hadn’t the foggiest idea. They weren’t decorative or interesting. What he was doing at the top of a Satanic organization, Lucifer couldn’t imagine. The fellow even tried to give him an imperious look. “I’m afraid we don’t know you, sir.”
“Why, of course you do!” Lucifer said. “You work for me.” They all stared at him. “Of course, I didn’t actually hire any of you, but you all showed up, dived in anyway. Good show—I do like initiative.” And then he smiled and let them see his eyes and said, in midnight voice, “Up to a point, of course.”
“I suppose that might not have been the best approach,” he said to Damien, after the first wave of shrieking and sobbing and pleas for mercy had died down. The old man had keeled over from an attack of some kind and was lying on the table face down in a spreading pool of blood—good riddance. Half a dozen others had fainted, the rest of them were all prostrating themselves on the floor or just straight up hiding under the table.
“I don’t see a problem, personally,” Damien said.
Ann Rutledge was the only one still standing, her face utterly exalted with joy and her hands clasped before her, tears in her eyes. Lucifer eyed her sidelong. It was just unnatural. “Command us, Lord,” she said, urgently. “Let us know Thy will.”
“Stop that, first thing,” he said, with distaste. “That’s Dad’s schtick, not mine. Hideously boring. I don’t really care what you lot do with yourselves, as long as you’re not making an enormous cock-up of everything.”
To give her credit, Rutledge did pull herself together. Her mouth quirked into a small smile, and she dropped her hands. “Of course,” she said, her eyes still shining. “I’m sorry. That was foolish of me. Of course you don’t want mindless obedience.”
“That’s right, I don’t,” Lucifer said, a bit irritably; where did she get off knowing what he did and didn’t want. “What I do want is for you lot to back the hell off my boy. When I want civilization to come to a giant crashing halt, I’ll tell you; until then, leave well enough alone.”
“I’ve only ever wanted to protect him,” she said softly. Damien snorted. She looked at him yearningly. “It’s true, Damien. I thought the influence and power of Armitage were the best tools I had for the work. I’m sorry I failed to restrain other elements in our midst.” She glanced down at the old man’s corpse, without the least sign of regret. “Forgive me?”
Damien regarded her stonily, his arms folded, a muscle tight along his jaw, but she was telling the truth, and he couldn’t help knowing it. He looked away after a moment, flicking a hand, grudgingly.
“Results, darling, not excuses,” Lucifer said firmly. He leaned over to the table and took a pen and scrap of paper and scribbled down his cell phone number and handed it to her. “Next time someone tries to overrule you, drop me a text. I trust you won’t abuse the privilege.”
“Never, Lord,” she said, taking it.
“It’s Lucifer, not Lord,” he said severely. She almost bowed her head, but then she raised her chin instead and smiled at him directly.
“Of course, Lucifer,” she said. “Thank you.”
He nodded and then cast a glance round the room. The sniffling and moans were still continuing, but at a lower pitch. “Right, I’ll leave you to tidy all this up, shall I?”
“It would be my pleasure,” she said. She threw one last disturbingly shining look at Damien. “I’m so happy for you, Damien. You’re going with him, aren’t you?” she said softly.
Damien looked at her. “Yes.” There it was again, that dreadful loyalty, destiny falling across him like the shadow of a looming sword, ready to swing at the neck he’d deliberately laid bare. Lucifer hadn’t been able to care very much about the Last Judgement. He wasn’t going to hurry it along, but it had been—only an end, to the long squalid descent of the Fall. He hadn’t had anything to lose in aeons, and now, on what was trying very much to look like the eve of destruction—now Chloe, and his son, and half a moment of something other than misery—
He almost had to admire the extraordinary cruelty of the whole thing. He couldn’t have devised a more perfect punishment himself if he’d thought it out for all the spinning years of the universe.
“Hey,” Damien said, as they left. Lucifer halted on the steps. He almost couldn’t bear to turn and look at him: his beautiful shining doomed son. “I’ve never really been too big on the Bible, but I didn’t get the impression you were all that into following orders from up there,” flicking a glance Heavenwards.
“It’s not really my defining characteristic, no,” Lucifer said. “Prophecy’s a bit trickier, though.”
“Fine,” Damien said. “I prophesy we’re going to let them sit around Heaven waiting for us for another hundred trillion years or whatever it’s going to take for all the stars to burn out, and when the universe is empty and we’re all good and bored, what the hell, we might as well take a shot.”
Lucifer snorted a laugh. “Amenadiel’s going to love you,” he said, imagining his darling brother’s reaction—a hundred trillion years of waiting—and then he stiffened in outrage as it all became clear—how the Satanists had thought up hiding the child, how Moloch and her hounds had managed to sneak out of Hell unnoticed, who had even prodded that Armitage patriarch along. “Oh, that pointy-winged bastard,” he hissed. “I’m going to rip out his liver.”