By the end of the second week, Lucifer was pretty sure that the wings were his Father’s idea of a bad joke, or maybe one more round of punishment for nearly 8 years of refusing to return to the throne of Hell.
They couldn’t possibly be a reward—not as they were. The weight of them on his shoulders felt natural enough, but his control was, at best, humiliatingly toddler-esque. Much of the time, they refused to fold against his back at all. Just when he thought them hidden in the ether, one would flail back into existence with an explosion of feathers and all the power required to fling divinity through the multiverse. They crowded him in the elevator, banged against bookshelves, caught in doorways, and threatened to knock over bar stools at every turn. They swept bottles off the displays and crashed tumblers onto the floor with disturbing regularity. Already weary of cleaning up broken glass and wasted alcohol, he had gone without a drink for days.
He badly needed the drink.
Wherever they had come from, the wings were a bigger problem than just the peripheral damage to Lux and his home; they were interrupting a delicate relationship, one he cared about more than he had anything in millennia. At long last, the Detective had agreed to go out with him again, even after their rather tumultuous recent history. One dinner date led to another, then to a cozy night on her sofa in front of the television (where he watched the light play over her lovely features more than he watched the film), then to a somewhat awkward appearance at the annual LAPD ball (where they both avoided Ella’s not-so-subtle questions by drinking too much bottom-shelf punch and dancing until Chloe had to skip her morning workout the next day).
Even though they had only worked their way up to a frustratingly chaste goodnight kiss, he found himself mostly at peace with this process of taking things slow, enjoying the journey of getting to know the Detective—Chloe—better than any other human, more deliberately than any being in his long existence. He reveled in every new detail about her, from her guilty pleasures of chick flick movies and chocolate chip cookie dough to the story behind the tiny scar hidden at the nape of her neck.
The past month or so had been . . . well, not heavenly , of course, but the closest thing he could imagine.
For her part, the Detective seemed content, as well. Her serious eyes brightened adorably when he arrived at the station in the morning. After work, even when she needed to go home to play with her offspring instead of him, she’d text him little comments throughout the evening. Each one, minor and domestic as they often were, lightened something unnamed and unnameable inside him and brought a warm smile to his lips. His piano sets at Lux began to include more upbeat, even sappy, love songs, so much so that regular patrons had begun eyeing him knowingly instead of flirting and fawning.
Lucifer thought things had been going exceedingly well—even when the entire calendar year of Playboy Playmates arrived on his penthouse doorstep, giggling and jiggling, in the middle of a romantic candlelight dinner. He’d cringed into the sofa and waited for a sharp reprimand, for a subtle show of hurt or jealousy or anger, but Chloe—amazing woman that she was—had simply laughed and invited the gaggle of girls and their art team to join them. They’d hosted the twelve models, three flamboyant photographers, two layout designers, and an elderly manager for the entire evening, Lucifer charming everyone without removing so much as his cufflinks. The ladies splashed in the hot tub, ate take out, sampled the scotch collection, raved about the view from the balcony in the clear January air, and even shrieked with delight when Lucifer convinced a reluctant Chloe to share a few Hot Tub High School set stories.
When their guests eventually crashed for the night, the Devil found himself inordinately touched by Chloe’s evident confidence in him. She left for home, and he slid alone between his cool sheets, not horny (as he might have expected) but pleasantly buzzed with the memory of her arms around his waist and her head cradled on his chest when she’d hugged him goodnight.
Yes, things really had been going so very well. Until now, that is.
Disgusted, Lucifer glared over his shoulder. One wing stuck out like a broken car antenna, its charred primaries trailing inconsiderately over everything. The scorch marks were as baffling as the wings’ return, each broad white feather edged with smoky brown, many ragged and broken. Every time he struck something, he could hear tiny snaps as bits of burnt feather cracked off and floated to the ground behind him, a trail of strange breadcrumbs pointing the way to the fallen angel who couldn’t control his own wings.
Proof of Father’s lousy taste in humor? Or the result of his own decision to burn the severed wings that night on the beach? He didn’t know and tried not to waste too much energy wondering if burning them had been a rather substantial mistake.
Of course, Lucifer had simply tried to get rid of the wings again. He didn’t want the bloody things now any more than before, thank you very much. When he woke to find them jutting awkwardly from his back, his very first move had been to call Mazikeen and ask her to bring her blades. She had arrived quickly, looking grim and eager, but when she’d seen him wrestling with them like a sixteen year old boy with a surprise boner in math class, she’d laughed so hard she had to sit down in the floor beneath his piano, holding her bare midriff and gasping.
“When you’re finished making light of my problem, can we get this over with?” he had grumbled, offended, reaching back to grip one unruly appendage in his fist before it knocked the chandelier down on their heads. Truth be told, he wasn’t looking forward to enduring Mazikeen’s brutal if effective field surgery again. But the pain and blood and hacked bone was still better than the alternative. He would not be tied to his Father, not after everything he’d done to escape.
“You can’t just vanish and ignore them?” Maze wiped tears of mirth from her eyes.
“No,” he ground out. “They seem to be rather . . .” He didn’t really have a word for their half-controlled, half-delinquent behavior. “Buggered? I don’t know. They won’t fold, they won’t vanish, they won't phase on command. I can’t even put a shirt on over them half the time.”
Maze snickered. “Feathery priapism? Sexy.”
He scowled. And, with a faint whoosh, the wings disappeared. Of their own volition. “Fuck,” Lucifer said, heartfelt. “There they go again.”
Maze lay in the floor and laughed so uproariously that he left her there and went back to bed.
When he saw his once right-hand demon next, she flatly refused to excise the damnable appendages. Her delight in watching him struggle, the gales of demonic sniggering that followed in his pitifully destructive and awkward wake, really shouldn’t have surprised him. Annoyed, yes. Angered, even. But in the years they’d been topside, he sometimes forgot that she was still hellspawn who reveled in torment and suffering. Even worse, she’d begun finding ways to assert her freedom and dominance in their relationship (and not in the fun way). When he demanded her help, she sniffed, tossed her chin into the air, and told him to do it himself.
(He tried. Amenadiel had to rescue him from dangling off the penthouse balcony by a wing that stubbornly refused to yank out at the roots, no matter how much force he applied. Needless to say, the resultant bruising and weakness only made the wing even more recalcitrant and stubborn. And it convinced Amenadiel that Lucifer needed his big brother’s supervision, a completely unacceptable option.)
It wouldn’t have been so bad, perhaps, except the tendency of the appendages to just randomly disappear then reappear sticking out in odd directions meant that he had to curtail his association with the Detective. She still refused to take his word about being the Devil, and he wasn't yet willing to risk the fragile trust they seemed to have reestablished by revealing the truth in the rather dramatic (if effective) way he had with Dr. Linda. Knocking her flat with an accidental runaway wing also seemed like a bad idea. As much as he wished she knew the “real” him, he was increasingly fearful of her reaction and the possibility she would walk—or run—away forever.
First, he missed her Award Ceremony at the central LAPD station where the Mayor granted her a medallion for special services to the community. Apparently that was a big deal, and his conspicuous absence was well-noted, if the crabbiness from other cops at the station was any indicator. Choe herself had seemed disappointed in him, which was worse.
He’d tried to return to police work that afternoon after a few hours of successfully hiding the wings. She looked charmingly pleased to see him, showed him the medallion and wished there was a version for consultants (him!), only to be confused when he suddenly rushed away again on “Lux business” in the middle of her sentiments. His shoulders had begun to itch, and the middle of a busy police station was hardly the place to learn one’s boyfriend (was that what he was?) was really Satan Himself.
The next day, he backed out on a promise to pick up the Detective’s offspring from school. (Apparently leaving her on the sidewalk with a cupcake as a sort of apology, but forgetting to text Chloe in a timely manner, was another faux-pas.)
So far, he’d failed to show at four homicide scenes, rescheduled (indefinitely) a fancy dinner at that new, posh seafood place in Long Beach, and had to abruptly sweep the Detective out of the penthouse and into the elevator with excuses about exhaustion, a private call, the need to clean the place before she came over, and other inane things. He’d thought himself a clever Devil until he’d had to come up with reasons to avoid the one person he actually wanted to see.
From her dubious, worried responses, lying wasn’t ever going to be his forte.
When the evening texts and phone calls from her ceased, he tried to suppress the wings with some targeted use of controlled substances. He made it through most of one (admittedly brief) case before catching some of the forensics staff staring at him a little too closely, as if noticing that their tall, dark, and handsome consultant’s pupils were far too blown for the lighting in the lab and considerably more red-lined than usual. He made a mental note to change tactics before he ended up embarrassing the Detective yet again. She was funny about drugs at the station.
Ironically, the switch to something less potent proved to be the cannabis straw that broke the camel’s back. The Detective found him sitting in front of her apartment with the last remnants of several joints scattered at his feet, the air in the open corridor redolent with the pungent smoke.
“Oh, come on, Detective,” he’d said, defensive. After all, he was trying to find ways to be around her without terrifying her, for goodness sake. “What if I said I have a prescription?”
It might not have been quite as big a deal if she hadn’t been towing the spawn along at the time. Ushering the child inside, she’d closed the door and asked several very pointed questions about his recreational pleasures (“Well, it’s not as invigorating as some more athletic endeavors I might suggest.”) and their impact on his health (“Still mostly immortal, darling.”), on his sort-of-career at the LAPD (“Please. Like Sir Douche hasn’t ever come to work high.”), and on her child who claimed Lucifer as a role model, Father forbid (“She was an accomplished blackmailer long before she met me, Detective!”). There was ranting, some irritable teeth grinding, and finally she just closed her eyes and sighed.
“Lucifer, go home,” she told him firmly. “Get yourself straightened out, and think about your priorities. Until then, we’re on hold. Understand?”
He really didn’t. But the stupid wings were beginning to push at his shoulder blades again in spite of that hour of toking up, so he went.
After three days of silence from Chloe (no answered phone calls, no texts, no summons to a crime), Lucifer felt cut off from everything that mattered. And he had no better idea how to “straighten out” or “think about his priorities” any differently. His priority was her and everything she loved, his intentions entirely too clear, and his strange, happy life appeared to be “on hold” indefinitely.
He crashed and bumped and shattered his way through the empty nightclub, muttering impolite (blasphemous, really) imprecations under his breath and trying to find something to do that took his mind off of his situation. But pottering around Lux wasn’t helping. Everywhere he looked, the staff had hung glittering paper hearts, crepe paper roses, silhouettes of naked boy children with bows and arrows (Cupid, he expected, although Cupid was never that poorly endowed), and other Valentine’s Day paraphernalia in homage to tomorrow’s highlight seasonal event. A few familiar-looking red-flower vines wove their way along some hand rails and clung to a crack in one concrete column. With the music pumping and some lighting gelled to pink and lavender, the club would be a veritable Valentine’s pleasure dome.
Normally, Lucifer found it exciting to watch, more exciting to participate, and Valentine’s night for him usually ended upstairs—although it had also ended on top of the piano or the bar right here in the early hours of dawn. This year, he’d hoped it might involve a certain blonde detective, some fine food and wine, and—well, whatever she desired, really.
Now, he expected to be hiding upstairs, staring at a phone that wouldn't ring. He stretched one broad wing out to its full length to glower at it, and a blackened feather detached itself and spiraled forlornly down to the floor.
The Prince of Air and Darkness needed some air and daylight.
He hauled himself up the stairs, caught several feathers in the wrought iron railing, knocked a Cupid off the wall, cursed Cupid, St. Valentine, and his Father as soundly as he knew how, and headed for the parking garage. Even morning traffic in L.A. sounded better than staying put another minute. Hopefully, he could sit on the damn wings and not wreck the convertible or blindside some unsuspecting cyclist.
“How does this crap keep getting in here?” Mazikeen tossed a large tangle of vines and leaves on top of the piano in disgust.
Turning away from his view of the brightening skyline, Amenadiel watched the demon wipe a hell-forged blade carefully on the back of Lucifer’s leather sofa. “Good to see you, too, Maze,” he said with a wry quirk of a smile. “Hope you’re not talking about me.”
She tucked the dagger back into its hidden sheath and dropped lightly onto the sofa. “Could be,” she replied with a sharp, white grin. “What brings you back? Bored of seeing to Mommy’s little comforts down in Sin City?” She kicked both boots up onto the coffee table, insolence and confidence in every lean line. “Or did you miss me?”
Amenadiel hooked his thumbs in his pockets in an effort to look casual in the face of the demon’s teasing. Based on her smirk, however, he was failing. “Guess I deserve that,” he admitted. “I’m just here to let Lucifer know I’m back and that I’m planning on staying, at least until there’s a better option.”
“Uh-huh.” She leaned back, stretching luxuriously, watching him with half-closed eyes.
He moved around the armchairs, allowing himself to stare even though he knew this game. Mazikeen was fire and darkness and hard, brutal edges. Was it any wonder he still found her captivating, still felt (crazy, inappropriate, uncontrollable) things even now? He approached until he loomed over her. “Or until there’s a reason to stay longer,” he suggested, voice low and hopeful.
Maze met his gaze stonily. “Nuh-uh,” she said, tipping her head back to see him, throat bared, fearless as always. “All that gooey stuff is for humans. Not for demons or for wayward angels who can’t seem to have any fun on their own.”
He started to argue, but she rolled to her feet and cut him off. “I’ll bet you didn’t even get a piece while down in Vegas. Your mom did, though, didn’t she? Did you watch? Did you want to?” She gave a dismissive sniff, but stepped close, dark eyes hooded. “Or were you waiting until you came back?”
“You don’t know anything about what I do.” Amenadiel held still as she closed the distance between them to millimeters. He could smell the tell-tale undercurrent of blood and brimstone that signaled her Hellish heritage, and he really didn’t care. “Or what I want,” he added.
A low purr of a laugh, her smoky breath wafting over him, one leather-clad thigh pressing against his. “Mmm. Angels lie so deliciously.”
One of his hands reached around her almost of its own free will, his fingertips trailing along the the warm skin of her back below the cut-off vest. “Maze . . .”
She stepped into him once more, quick, knee skimming across his groin with a little too much force, and he instinctively gave way before her. She chuckled, half-amusement, half-bite. “It’s not hard to guess what you want . And can’t have.”
Teeth gritted in annoyance, Amenadiel turned away. He glanced at the mess of bristly vines she had brought in with her. They looked as if they had been uprooted, not just cut, flecks of soil and a few pebbles visible on the piano’s lacquered surface. “Not into flowers, either?” he asked, more to have something to say than genuine curiosity.
“Not those,” she said. Then, with disbelief: “You don’t recognize them?”
He looked more closely, thinking the multilayered red flowers looked familiar against the thorny bracken they grew on, leaves spiky like thistles, stems thick and twisted. He tried to remember where he’d seen them before. “Wait. Is that—?”
“River briar. From the Lethe.”
“No way.” He took a step backward, wary. “That can’t be here. It only grows at the edge of Hell, on the banks of the River.” He stared down at the clump of vegetation as if it might suddenly rear up and reach for him with its thorny tendrils.
“Obviously, it can be here,” Maze said sourly. “This came from the alley just beside Lux’s front doors. Found some more rooting in the plants on the balcony here about a week ago, and a vine cracked the foundation behind the bar downstairs and was winding itself into the bourbons. That new bartender with the hipster mustache tripped over it when I was—” She paused to give him a slow grin. “—showing him how to stock a shelf.”
Amenadiel frowned and kept the subject where it belonged. “Then, what’s it doing here? How’d it get here?”
Her grin warped into a sneer, a faint curling of her lip. “Oh, I don’t know. I’m not the one who spent most of a year flying between Hell and Los Angeles trying to get darling brother to take up his throne again. How often did you flutter over the banks of the Lethe? Pick up a few spores in your dress or your feathers?”
He shook his head. “Not possible.”
“Why not? You’re a damn angel. You make miracles.”
He bristled. “On orders, not by accident.”
“Some of them have pretty unintended consequences, don’t you think? Maybe this is another one of those.” Hands fisted on her hips, she glared at him.
He tried to match her ferocity, but suspected his expression looked more like chagrin. What if it was his fault? Clearly, it wouldn’t be the first time. “Okay. Okay.” He held up both hands in surrender. “So let’s have the bad news, then. How many humans have stopped to smell the roses?”
“None,” she replied.
“None?” Amenadiel felt a wave of relief coupled with confusion. “Then why—?”
“None that I can tell. In such small quantities, this stuff’s probably not flashy enough to draw the primates’ attention.” Maze shrugged. “Plus I’m not sure it would do anything to a living human anyway. The perfume affects the dead, causes souls heading into Hell to lose those memories not tied to their particular punishment. The living? Who knows?” She rummaged in the brambles and pressed one of the flowers to her nose. “I can’t even smell them. Can you?”
Amenadiel struck her elbow hard, knocking the bloom out of her fingers and jostling her to one side. She snarled and was reaching for a dagger when he caught her hands. “Maze!” he cried. “The thorns!” His grip gentling, he turned her hands over to run his thumb over her skin in search of nicks or scratches.
“They don’t affect demons,” she assured him, softening slightly in the wake of his evident concern. “We’re part of the same ecosystem. Unlike you. So, keep away.”
Still holding her hands between his, Amenadiel looked down at her. “I”d say thank God—but I’m learning not to,” he murmured. Before she could reply, the elevator chimed, and he took a quick, guilty step away, dropping her hands. He felt rather than saw her disparaging eye roll at his cowardice and winced.
Lucifer shoved his way through the doors, looking vexed and windblown, inexplicable wingtips scraping along the ceiling and wall. “Mazikeen,” he growled when he saw the demon. “I need these bloody things gone! What bribe will it take? Name your price.” As he stalked towards her, he glanced at the litter of vines and dirt scattered across his piano. “What the hell is this mess?” Irate, he swept the surfare clear with a violent stroke of his hand, sending river briars tumbling to the floor.
“Lucifer!” Amenadiel dodged aside, eyes widening.
“Oh, you’re back, Brother. Do excuse me while I convince Hell’s favorite torturer to rid me of these miserable . . .” Lucifer wavered, blinking, the spots of angry color on his cheeks fading into sudden pallor. Lifting his hand, he stared at a single line of blood scratched along the center of his palm. “What’s this?” he slurred, frowning.
And dropped like a stone to the marble floor, wings going as limp as the rest of him.
“Oh, for crying out loud,” said Maze into the stunned silence. “I never have my phone out at the right damn time.”
“So, it’s actually true?”
“That it roofies idiot angels? Yep. Unless you need another object lesson?” Mazikeen heaved her former boss over onto his back, kicking one of his wings until it finally splayed out flat beneath him. “River briars are one of Hell’s natural defenses against incursion by celestials. You know that. He knows that!”
Grimacing, Amenadiel watched her wrestle with his brother’s body, the unwieldy wings seeming to have too many joints, take up too much space, be either right underfoot or accordioned into unnatural and painful shapes. “Here, let me help.” He stepped carefully over the feathers to hook his hands beneath Lucifer’s unresponsive arms and heaved. Even with two of them, it took several minutes and a lot of grunting and swearing to wrestle the unconscious Devil around the furniture, unhooking or tripping over wings at every step. They dragged him up the stone steps, angled him through the door of his bedroom, and dumped him unceremoniously on the bed.
“I can’t believe that didn’t wake him up,” Amenadiel said, leaning on the nightstand to catch his breath. He reached over his brother’s unnervingly still form and slapped him lightly on one pale, stylishly stubbled cheek. “C’mon, Luci. Snap out of it.”
Maze snorted. “Not gonna happen.” She seized one wing and hauled it from beneath Lucifer’s body, stretching it out and smoothing some of the crumpled and broken feathers. It trailed off the side of the bed by several feet, filling the room.
“What? Why not?”
“You ever seen Weekend at Bernie’s ?” She paused in jostling Lucifer off of his second wing, eyes glittering with suppressed humor.
“Too bad. Well, you know the old stories. Deep, magical sleep. Kinda permanent.”
“Silly human stories. What do they know?” With one knee on the bed, Amenadiel bent over his brother, curled his fingers into Lucifer’s lapels, and shook him roughly. The dark head lolled like a rag doll’s. Beneath closed eyelids, his eyes flickered restlessly as if dreaming.
“Well, those silly tales get some things right. It's a defensive curse. Drops angels like elephant tranquilizer and keeps them down. Sleep of the just, I suppose.” She snickered at her own comedy.
“Angels don’t sleep. And this isn’t funny.”
“Don’t be stupid. You both sleep. You both do a lot of things angels don’t do. And this is hilarious. The Lord of Hell versus a teensy-tiny flower? C’mon, don’t tell me you didn’t dream of something like this when you were kids.”
“I’m not stupid. We don’t have to sleep. And no, I didn’t.” It was a token bit of banter, just some noise in the air to combat the oppressive silence—so unusual when Lucifer was in the room, his gleeful, snarky commentary noticeably absent, that near-manic energy stilled. Amenadiel straightened. “So, if it’s a curse, it can be broken. How do we break it?”
A wry little smile crossed her face, darkly amused. “Exactly how you think.” She gestured. “Go for it, big boy.”
Amenadiel looked a little green and folded his arms over his chest. “I’m not kissing him.”
“You know the nauseating legends. It’s gotta be someone who cares about him. You’re his big bro!” Mazikeen punched him hard in the shoulder, warming to her topic. “You care. So, swap that slobber.”
““I don’t think brotherly affection is quite what the stories call for.”
“Mmmm.” She gave him a swift sultry look, trailed her fingers casually up the front of his t-shirt. Her tongue flicked out over her dark lips, pink and bright. “You should try it anyway,” she suggested. “Even if it fails, it would be hot to watch.”
Amenadiel shuddered and side-stepped away from her. “I don’t think so.”
“Aw. You could let me get out my phone. Maybe take off that shirt. Oil up a little?”
“Maze,” he rumbled, scowling, and she flashed him a wicked grin. “What about you, though? You care about him, in your own demonic way. And you two have, at least, you know . . .”
“We’ve what?” Her eyes glittered.
“You know what.”
“Oh, you mean we've knocked boots?” With a delighted leer, she sidled closer to him again. “Bumped uglies? Went to the boneyard? Knew each other in the biblical way?” She snorted. “That one always makes me laugh.”
Amenadiel looked away. “Yes. All that.”
“I’m a demon.” She traded the teasing for straight sarcasm. “We don’t do True Love.” It came out like “twooo wuv.”
Amenadiel kept his face turned from her just in case it showed disappointment at her words—and not just for Lucifer’s sake. You’re already Fallen, and you still have it bad. But, Father, she’s so . . . “So, what?” he plunged on desperately. “The whole True Love’s Kiss thing is a real requirement? Are you sure?”
“But angels don’t do love, either. It goes against Dad’s regulations, against how we were made.” At least, he’d always thought it did. Lately, though . . .
“That’s what makes it a great defense of the border,” Maze agreed, unmoved.
“Well, we’re in luck, aren’t we?” Amenadiel’s path to the door blocked by one of Lucifer’s outstretched wings. Gingerly, he folded it out of the way; it swung limply back behind him as if on hinges.
“Where are you going?”
“To find Chloe Decker. I’ll explain what’s happened, bring her here. Done.”
Maze gave a bitter bark of laughter. “Not gonna be so simple. They broke up a few days ago.”
Amenadiel sagged against the doorframe, staring out into the living space at the vacant piano, the wall of waiting whisky, all suddenly more empty and unnatural without their master. “What?” he breathed. “Why?”
“Her choice. If you’d been around, you’d have gotten to experience the Devilish depression, too. Been a fun few days for everyone.”
“What did he do?” He leaned back in the door, resigned.
“What do you think he did? Cursed. Drank. A little heroin. Pouted rather spectacularly.”
“No, I mean, what did he do that caused her to end it? Are you sure it’s over? Maybe it’s just temporary?” He spread his hands. “Does she realize he died for her—twice, in fact? Mom was pretty sure she was smitten with him, too.”
Maze scoffed. “Because the Queen Bitch of All Creation understands so much about love and loyalty.”
Amenadiel twitched, feeling the barb. “I’m not saying that. I’m just saying that Chloe doesn’t seem like someone to give her affections lightly. Or end them on a whim.”
“You do remember that your brother is Satan, right? Old Scratch? The Adversary?” Maze arched a scarred eyebrow, mocking. “Weren’t you two pretty much on the outs for most of your lives? You think he’s not capable of pissing off a human who’s immune to his charms? Hell, he pissed off God once.”
“More than once, actually.”
She just looked at him.
“Yes, Maze, I’m well aware of how talented he is at making people angry.” He looked back at his brother sprawled across the rumpled sheets. Through the shades, morning sun cast dappled light over the closest wing, the unscorched greater coverts seeming almost to glow. “But I don’t know any other way to fix this. Do you? And, no, we’re not leaving him this way for giggles. If you don’t have any better ideas, then I’m going to get Chloe.”
He turned to go again, but the demon’s strong fingers caught his elbow. “There’s another hitch,” she said more soberly.
“What is it?”
She slid around in front of him. “Think about it. Chloe doesn’t believe any of us aren’t from this plane. He’s not the Devil, I’m not a demon, you’re not an angel. The whole Heaven/Hell thing is some kind of misguided fantasy or maybe a part of Lucifer’s warped defense mechanisms. So, what exactly are you going to say to her? ‘Hey, Chloe, your sometimes boyfriend just got pricked by a fairyland flower and fell into a magical sleep, and only you can wake him?’”
He peered down at her, frowning. “Yes.”
“Have you even met Chloe Decker, realist extraordinaire?”
“I just need to get her here.“ He jerked his thumb back over his shoulder at the spread of vast wings filling the bedroom. “I think she’ll figure it out when she sees him.”
Still blocking his way, Mazikeen shook her head obstinately. “I’m telling you. She doesn’t know because she doesn’t want to know. If she wanted to, she would. She’s not stupid.”
“I don’t want her to know, either.” Privately, Amenadiel agreed with the detective. Some things were better left hidden. “But, given our current situation, I think we’re past protecting our anonymity at this point.”
Mazikeen took a deep breath. “If she runs away screaming, it won’t help him. You know I’m all for screaming. But not in this case. Not Chloe.”
The demon’s unexpected concern gave him pause. “Do you think she will? Run away, I mean?”
Maze tried to shrug off her apprehension. “I don’t know. She’s brave for a human, but this is Lucifer. I don’t understand her reaction to most of the things he does. I mean, she hasn’t even slept with him. Who does that?”
“He planned to let her test his blood once,” Amenadiel remembered. “I take it she never did, but he was fine with it.”
“Then, he changed. He showed Linda his face, but not Chloe. When those wings showed up, he kept them hidden from her. He doesn’t want her to know.”
“I don’t think he wants to sleep through the next century, either, Maze.”
She gripped his forearm, insistent. “No, listen to me. What if he he hasn’t told her because he knows it’ll drive her away? What if she sees who he is and can’t love him, not like this? Then what will we do?”
Amenadiel scrubbed at his face, suddenly weary. “Damn it.”
They stood together, her hand still on his arm almost as if for comfort, the magnitude of their dilemma weighing on them. For a long moment, it seemed to thicken and slow the air in a mockery of his former angelic powers. Nothing moved. No sound except their breathing.
Finally, he brushed her fingers with his. “Mazikeen,” he said quietly. “We don’t have a choice.”
She snatched her hand away as if scalded. “Yeah. Fine. I know.” Jaw set, determined, she moved aside to let him pass. “But she won’t come if you tell her the truth. She’ll think it’s a joke. Or that you’re crazy.”
“I’ll tell her something else then. Let her figure it out herself when she sees him.” He headed for the exit a little too quickly, shaking off the memory of her touch, but stopped at the elevator and turned back. “While I’m gone, can you maybe make him more presentable? Maybe more—I don’t know—kissable? Stack the deck in our favor? You know Chloe better than I do.”
Mazikeen leaped up the bedroom steps to contemplate Lucifer again. “I guess he does look kinda like some creeper trying to be a budget mall Cupid.” She hummed to herself a moment, thinking, then tossed him a quick thumbs up. “I got this. You get her.” She vanished into the room with purpose, and he nodded and punched the elevator call button.
Chloe noticed Lucifer’s brother in the crowd beyond the police cordon after nearly three hours of scouring the site of her latest murder case. She had been alternating between interviewing potential witnesses and watching Dan and Ella wisecracking over blood spatter in a way that made her remember how long it had been since she’d spoken to Lucifer. Signaling them, she jogged over to meet the big man, trying not to worry. Why would Amenadiel show up at a crime scene? Why hadn’t Lucifer reached out to her again? Had he decided after everything that her ultimatum was just too much? Had something else happened to him?
“Amenadiel. I didn’t expect to see you here,” she said, waving at the beat cops to let him duck under the blockade. “Everything okay?”
“Not exactly,” he answered. Like his brother, he towered over her, but unlike Lucifer, Amenadiel always seemed to be a man of few words, a solid, stable, thoughtful. “I was hoping you’d come see Lucifer at his apartment.”
Chloe felt a cold fist clench in her gut. “What’s wrong?”
He lifted his hands, pacifying. “Nothing. Well, not nothing . But—” He hesitated as if unsure of the words he needed.
Her alarm ratcheted up another notch. “I’m working a recent homicide here.” She gestured behind her by way of apology, hating that she couldn’t just walk away. “Got to finish up, but I’ll come as soon as I can.”
“Go ahead,” said Dan at her elbow. He nodded a casual greeting to Amenadiel. “Look, I’ve got things here. It’ll do me good to have a little more responsibility, even temporarily. You can go.”
“Are you sure?” She gave him a grateful look.
“Yeah. Just, while you’re there, be sure to tell the Dick to stop dicking around and get himself together before some other guy makes a move. Not me,” he added quickly. “Just—He needs to not take some things for granted.”
Amenadiel nodded gravely, and Dan strode back toward the flashing lights and the overly cheerful forensic examiner who seemed to be waiting for him.
Chloe watched her ex with interest and a faint smile before turning back to Amenadiel. “I’ll head there now. Let me get my car. Can you tell me what’s up?”
“It will be easier to explain there,” he said, still sounding odd. “I’ll meet you.” His hurry to shoulder back through the crowd of crime-scene onlookers kicked the beehive of unease in her stomach again, and she hastened down the street to where she’d left her car.
She resisted using her siren in mid-morning traffic, but it took longer than she wanted to pull in beside the closed nightclub. When the elevator at last dinged open at the penthouse, Chloe didn’t know what to expect, but it wasn’t an uninhabited apartment. She stood on the threshold for a moment, seeing nothing immediately amiss except missing people and a distinct absence of the usual ubiquitous half-filled tumblers or shot glasses, even at this hour.
“Lucifer?” she called into the room. “Amenadiel?”
Hearing no response, she found herself eyeing the familiar living space almost as if it were a crime scene. The expensive leather armchairs were vacant, seats smooth, not shaped by recent use. The crystal ashtray was empty, the piano fingerboard closed tight. She walked further in to see a mass of wild-looking brambles strewn across the floor, and just beyond them, the rug was rucked up, shoved aside carelessly. Some small, oblong white and brown shapes dotted the dark marble floor.
She peered closer, careful to leave everything in place. Were those chicken feathers? Really? The scattered briars bore exquisite red flowers like small, flat, asymmetrical roses. Pretty, but fierce with thorns, and not something she ever remembered seeing before. A Valentine’s gift from some admirer, maybe? Mixed messages, if so.
Chloe wandered the big room, confused and curious and increasingly worried. She glanced out onto the sunny balcony, down the steps into the dark-paneled hall, and even stepped quickly into Lucifer’s bedroom, just in case she might hear the shower in the master bathroom beyond.
When her eyes passed over the shape on the bed, she stopped. “What the hell?” she breathed, moving into the room as if beguiled.
One of the bedroom balcony doors had been opened to catch a late morning breeze, the salt tang of the ocean more noticeable than the smog at this height. It blew the curtains gently, casting patterns of shadow and sunlight along the bed and ruffling—she had to close and open her eyes a few times just to be sure—the feathers of a pair of immense white wings. They spread out to either side of Lucifer who lay in the center of his bed, naked except for his trousers. The angle of the light sculpted his form, traced smooth planes of muscle along his chest and stomach, outlined the tendons in his throat and the veins visible along his open arms. His bare feet were crossed comfortably, and she could see the easy rhythm of his breath. His dark-lined eyes were closed, lashes stark against the pallor of his face. His hair was mussed, as if someone (not her) had run their fingers through it just before he’d fallen asleep.
Enrapt, she moved closer, standing over him. She had always known he was physically beautiful, but here he was otherworldly, ethereal, a figure out of story and time. The colossal wings gleamed in the light, long axillary feathers framing his narrow waist and hips, the rest sleek and powerful like a falcon’s. Unlike the wings she had seen at the illegal auction, these were singed, discolored by the smoky lick of flames, their splintered, ragged edges hinting at tragedy, vulnerability. A fallen angel’s wings, she thought. The devil’s wings. Stunningly beautiful, badly damaged, and so very real.
She swallowed the sudden dryness in her throat. It met the slow flare of anger coming up. “Lucifer!” she snapped into the silence. “What do you think you’re doing? Your brother pulled me off a fresh case to come here.”
When he didn’t even twitch, she stomped around the bed and flicked his bare foot none too gently. “Hey! Don’t pretend to be asleep. You can’t possibly think that I’m going to fall for this.” She thumped him again, harder. “Is this what you do to get attention from some of those vapid bimbettes that hang around after hours?”
The only motion from the figure on the bed was a ripple of breeze-blown feathers and the steady rise and fall of his chest.
“Okay. Fine.” Chloe seized the closest wing and gave it a tug. The feathers were cool, but the form beneath felt warm and solid, like flesh and skin stretched over bone—a remarkable piece of technology that must have cost him a fortune. How many women before her had seen this, had fallen for the sleeping, injured angel routine? Gripping the wing more firmly, she shoved it toward him, watching it fold smoothly at the joints, impressed in spite of herself. She leaned onto the edge of the bed to shove his shoulder, too. “Lucifer! C’mon, this is ridiculous. Get up and tell me what’s going on.”
Still no reaction. Not a flicker of an eyelid, no tell-tale hitch of breath. The curtains rippled, sending shadows playing across his skin.
Chloe growled, increasingly annoyed. “Oh, I know you don’t expect me to kiss you awake like some kind of Sleeping Luci,” she sniped. “Please. You know, this really is not a good way to show me that you’ve got your issues straightened out or that you’ve figured out some priorities.”
She straightened, hands on her hips. This was crazy. She had work to do and couldn’t play games all afternoon.
But, against her better judgment, she hesitated. He really did look like he was sleeping, peacefully and perhaps too soundly. She had never realized how much tension he carried in his face until she saw it gone. He looked younger, less angular even beneath the rakish five o’clock shadow, his lips parted slightly, the lines of his forehead smoothed. Something about the weird lighting in here, however, made him also seem a bit wan and colorless, the dark highlights more striking against pale skin. Maybe it was the black sheets, the black trousers and hair, the high contrast of the sun-spotted wings. She glanced down his body again, still hesitant, and noticed that his trousers had been unfastened, a tiny porn-star touch to the whole tableau.
“Enough,” she said to the room and to him. “I’ve had it. Call me when you grow up.” She marched out of the bedroom and into the elevator without a backward glance, fuming quietly at being tricked into visiting, at being so worried about him, about them, and all only to find him acting like a teenager on a hormone high.
When the elevator closed, Amenadiel and Mazikeen emerged from their hiding place in the bathroom and stood at the foot of the bed without speaking for several minutes.
Maze sucked on her teeth, the sound wet and loud in the quiet room. “That went well.”
“I told you the zipper was too much,” Amenadiel said, rubbing his temples wearily.
“Hmm. Always works for me.”
“I’ll take that under advisement,” he groused before he thought about what he was saying. “Nevermind. Chloe isn’t like you, Maze.”
She ignored his slip, tossed her head. “No one’s like me. But it seems Decker really can’t take a hint.”
“Should we go after her and just explain what’s at stake?”
“Won’t work.” Shaking her head, Maze stomped down into the living room and began kicking around the mess of briars that had created the whole problem.
“Why not? She still cares about him. Or she did before this,” Amenadiel corrected himself. “It must mean something that she came here.”
“She can’t just do it to break the curse.” Mazikeen crouched to poke one of the flowers with a claw-like fingernail. “It’s gotta be, you know, real. And given freely, not under duress.”
Uninterested in getting close to the Lethe’s own brand of angelic Ambien, Amenadiel veered toward Lucifer’s impressive collection of very fine, very potent whiskies. Pouring a glass, he toasted the air. “Well, here’s to free will. Ironic, really.”
“And there’s one more problem.” The shift in her tone made him look up from the amber liquor in his glass. She held up the knotted vines for him to see. Once a vibrant, living green, they had begun to turn a shade of ashen grey, some of the leaves crumbling on contact. Several of the luminous scarlet blossoms shed petals on the rug at her feet. “It’s dying.”
“If it was still growing, we’d have all of Hell’s eternity to break the curse. Now we don’t.” Her eyes followed another petal as it spun downward, turning brown and withering even as it fell. “I’d say we have until the end of tomorrow.”
“Valentine’s night? And then what?”
“And then he never wakes up.”
“Shit,” Amenadiel said, downing the whisky in a single gulp.
When Chloe arrived home that evening after dropping her daughter off with Dan, she found Mazikeen stretched out on the sofa reading one of Trixie’s old Grimm’s Fairy Tales picture books. Strange enough behavior, but when the other woman swung her feet down on the floor and stared at her fixedly, Chloe had to stop putting up groceries and ask, “What, Maze? Do I have bubblegum in my hair again?”
“What do you know about fairy tales, Decker?” Her roommate dropped the book on the coffee table with a thud and propped her elbows sharply on her leather-clad knees. She looked like a predatory lecturer, ready to pounce on an unsuspecting student with demerits and information.
Chloe blinked. “What?” she repeated, confused.
“Fairy tales. You know.” Maze pointed at the book as if Chloe hadn’t seen it and didn’t realize it was potentially hostile. “Sleeping Beauty and the Beast. Little Red Riding Crop. Stuff like that.”
Returning to stacking soup cans in the cabinet, Chloe shrugged. “I assume you mean the children’s stories and not the porn films,” she clarified, just to be sure. “If so, I know as much as any other mom with a nine year old and access to Disney movies. Why?”
Maze came over to perch on one of the counter bar stools, watching her with narrowed eyes as she emptied both grocery bags. “Did you get my cereal?”
Chloe pulled out the box of over-sweetened kid’s breakfast cereal and held it just out of the other woman’s reach. “Stop telling Trixie to eat this junk, or I’ll stop buying it.”
“Whatever, Decker.” Maze arched upward with almost unnatural grace and balance, snatched the box, and proceeded to pry it open and munch fistfuls of crunchy stars and marshmallows. “So, what do you know about True Love’s Kiss?”
At first, Chloe thought she was reading off the back of the colorful box, but Mazikeen’s gaze was locked on her again—a hard-edged, glittering stare that was the Maze-version of intense curiosity.
“Why?” she asked slowly. “What’s this about?”
Maze shoved too much cereal into her mouth and chewed messily for a few seconds. “What do you know?” she insisted, losing a little cereal to her lap and the floor.
Chloe pulled a disgusted mom face, then sighed in sudden understanding. “Oh, I know what this is. Is this about Lucifer?”
Mazikeen pushed the box of cereal in her direction and lifted her eyebrows in invitation, a generous offer. Or an effort to deflect. “Answer my question first.”
“You know what Lucifer’s up to, don’t you?” Chloe leaned her hip against the counter, meeting her roommate's demanding gaze with her own. “He told you? Or maybe showed you that entire crazy set-up?” She threw her hands in the air in exasperation. “Did you actually think it was a good idea, too?”
Maze looked affronted. “He didn’t have a lot of choice, Decker,” she snapped back, bristling. “All you had to do was kiss him. Not like you haven’t done it before.”
Chloe tried to suppress her instinctive indignation, having more-or-less grown used to her roommate’s very different ethic around lots of things, especially sex and relationships. And children. And food. And home decor. And life in general. “Not the point.”
Maze grinned wickedly around another mouthful of mushy cereal. “You’ve done more than kiss him in your dreams. I should know.” She made an enthusiastic grabbing motion above her head with both hands and rocked her hips. “What was this again? Looked pretty kinky to me. So, what's your hang-up now?”
Chloe flushed with embarrassment and the shockingly pleasurable memory of that dream. Unlike most that faded with morning, she could remember the phantom feel of Lucifer’s hands on her body, in her hair, his breath hot and insistent against her lips, the hard feel of him between her knees. She stifled that train of thought abruptly, took a deep breath, tried to will the color out of her cheeks and neck. “It’s not a hang-up,” she said with careful precision, examining the countertop minutely rather than looking up. “It’s an honest responsibility.”
“Don’t get it.” More munching.
“Look, Maze. I’m not going to be with someone who can’t get his priorities straight, who can’t even talk to me about what’s going on with him. And I’m certainly not going to kiss him while he pretends to sleep on a bed of great big costume wings. This is not the way adults build sustainable relationships!”
Maze propped her elbows on the counter. “I thought the wings were kinda hot myself.”
Chloe sighed again. Was it worth the effort to bang her head on the closest cabinet in aggravation? (Was it also completely crazy that she almost agreed about the wings? Just a little? Crap .)
“Besides, what if he can’t talk to you right now, Decker? What if he’s waiting on True Love’s Kiss first?”
“He’ll have to keep waiting.” Chloe really couldn’t believe she was having this conversation. “Not only is it just silly, it’s backward, Maze. The fairy tales get it wrong. Love doesn’t come first. Responsibility and honesty and trust come first.”
“Not in my experience,” Maze argued. “Sex comes first. And second. And third.” She grinned. “Hell, I say screw this whole True Love’s Kiss thing! Let’s go back to Lux and just get to the good stuff. You and me and the Devil, Decker. Bet that would wake his ass up!”
Chloe could feel the beginnings of a tension headache right behind her eyes. “Not in a million years.”
“Fine,” Mazikeen grumbled, disappointed. She thumped the cereal box down, leaving it open on the counter when she stood. “Just kissing, then. Just you. You’re no fun, Decker, but we already knew that. Still, we should go.”
Opening the refrigerator, Chloe decided it was time to end this—whatever this was. “Right now,” she announced, “I’m going to take this sandwich and go to bed with a book. And not a book of fairy tales. What Lucifer Morningstar does or doesn’t do—or who, as the case may be—is not going to be my concern tonight. Or tomorrow. Or probably the next day.”
She felt Maze’s sharp eyes on her shoulders all the way into her room.
After lunch the next day, Chloe looked up over a mountain of paperwork (currently topped with a pink-frosted donut) to find an unexpected visitor. “Linda!” she said, pleasantly surprised, rising to share a hug with her friend. “What brings you down here? Everything okay?”
The therapist looked her normally neat, put-together self, discrete jewelry, just-this-side-of-provocative neck and hemline, blonde hair pulled up into a tidy bun. But her smile seemed a little practiced, her bright eyes almost cautious behind her glasses. “I’m great. But can we talk?” Linda glanced around the bustling station. “Privately?”
“Of course. Sure.” Chloe gestured to the nearby empty interrogation room. “In here?”
They settled across from each other, and Linda cleared her throat. “I hope you don’t think I’m being too forward or out of line, but I need to ask you about Lucifer.”
“As his therapist?” Chloe asked carefully.
“As his friend. And yours.”
“Ah.” The detective sat back in her chair and folded her arms. “You, too, Linda? What is it with everyone and this dumb prank of Lucifer’s? First Amenadiel, then Maze, now you? Did Lucifer send you?”
“Truthfully, no,” Linda answered, her voice mild and soothing but also frank. Chloe wondered if they taught that tone in her doctoral program, and how many agitated patients had heard it this week alone. “Lucifer and I haven’t spoken in a few days, but Maze called me over to Lux around seven this morning.”
“Pretty early for a drink.” Hearing her own coolness, Chloe grimaced. “Sorry. Sorry, Linda. I’m not trying to be bitchy.”
“It’s okay. And I suspect, since you share an apartment with her, you already know that scotch and vodka are Maze’s idea of a nutritional breakfast?” Linda’s words were both wry and affectionate, and Chloe found herself reflecting the sentiment, relaxing again in amused camaraderie. The therapist continued, “I really didn’t have time this morning; I told her I had a pretty tight line-up of patients today.”
“Even on Valentine’s Day, eh?”
“Singles Awareness Day,” Linda corrected with a little ironic laugh. “Gets to a lot of people. Can be a difficult day.”
“But here you are anyway,” Chloe couldn’t help but point out.
“So I am. Maze sounded so unlike herself that I popped in on my way to the office, after all. And I’m glad I did. She insisted I go upstairs to check on Lucifer. She tells me you’ve seen him, too.”
“I’m sorry she bothered you, Linda. Lucifer is just—well, I don’t know what he’s doing.” Chloe pressed her fingers into her eyes, rubbing them tiredly. “Acting out? Playing some kind of Luciferish game?”
“Is that what you think?”
“What else am I supposed to think? We were going along so well, and then everything seemed to just fall apart. Just when I think I can open up with him, he gets cold feet. I’ve seen it with him before, you know, more than once. I don’t think he’s ready for the kind of maturity I need in a romantic relationship.” She stopped herself, letting her hands fall into her lap and gave Linda an apologetic glance. “Sorry. You didn’t come here to be a therapist.”
Linda reached across the table and grasped Chloe’s hand, beaming at her from behind her dark-framed glasses. “We’re friends, first and foremost. You can always talk to me. Even about Lucifer. Especially about Lucifer. We both understand professional confidentiality, so you know I won’t break that, and I know you won’t ask me to. And I daresay I might understand him better than he understands himself some of the time.”
“No doubt,” Chloe agreed. “And thanks, but I’ll try to keep the impromptu psychiatric sessions to a minimum. Unless there’s several shots of tequila involved.” She mock-shuddered. “But you started that, as I recall.”
Linda sat back, smiling. “And Maze finished it. So, we both know that Mazikeen Smith can definitely over-react with the best of them, but . . .” She grew more serious, selecting each word with care. “I’ve seen this for myself. Lucifer isn’t well, Chloe. And, as crazy as it sounds, I think he genuinely needs you.”
Chloe snorted. “He doesn’t need me. He might need more time on the couch with you . Did Maze tell you about the whole Sleeping Beauty routine he’s pulling? Did you see that set-up? Those wings? What kind of person does that?”
“One who’s a bit desperate, perhaps? Who feels he doesn’t have a choice?”
“He has a choice.” Even as she said it, Chloe couldn’t help but hear the echo of Maze’s words the previous night. He didn’t have a lot of choice, Decker . She pursed her lips. “He’s choosing to avoid me, to avoid talking to me about whatever’s wrong with him and with us. Instead, he’s choosing to get my attention somehow with this ludicrous fantasy.”
“And what’s that?”
“I don’t know. It’s like his usual 'friendly neighborhood devil' routine meets every 'stupid fainting princess' story in the book.” Chloe pulled a face. “According to Maze, I’m supposed to be Prince Charming, ride in on my white stallion and save him with a kiss.”
Linda looked thoughtful. “So, all he wants is a kiss?”
“That, and to make me think he’s crazy. Or I am.”
Tapping her lips lightly with one finger, Linda hummed. “It’s not so far off the mark, don’t you think? After all, that’s what you do in your work together. Solve cases. Save people.” She tilted her head and peered at Chloe over the rim of her glasses, her eyes twinkling. “I think, in some very important ways, you save him.”
Chloe frowned. “What do you mean?”
“I think you know,” Linda replied gently. “He’s different when he’s with you. Better, more thoughtful, more focused. He becomes more connected to the world and less absorbed in himself, booze, drugs, sex, sin. He tried running away, you remember, and came back to you even though it nearly broke his pride.”
She did remember. Shortly after the incident with the poison, Lucifer had vanished for three months without a word, only to return weirdly shattered and profoundly sorry. It had taken them a long time to return to some semblance of their “normal,” and longer still for her to recover her faith that they might be something more than a peculiar friendship.
“He self-sabotages,” Chloe said slowly. “Any time we get close, he implodes. I—I don’t know what to do with that, Linda. I don’t know what he needs.”
Linda’s smile was soft and knowing. “I think the Prince of Hell, as he sees himself, needs a rescuer in his story. He’s left Hell behind, but he’s lost and unsure. He needs a princess who is tough and strong and emotional and committed, everything he has so little experience being. He needs her to not be afraid of all his pitfalls, or his metaphorical ugliness, or the mistakes he will most definitely make. He needs someone to wake him up and see past the facade.”
“I—” Chloe looked down. “I don’t think I can be that person.”
“Do you want to be?”
“Yes.” The answer was past her lips before conscious thought, and Chloe swallowed hard. “Yes. But—”
“Do you love him?”
“He infuriates me,” was the response that came first. “He makes me so confused and exasperated I want to pull my hair out.” She met Linda’s calm, open gaze and tried. ”He makes me laugh, and care, and wonder, and see the world differently. He’s like a child sometimes. And once in awhile, it’s like he’s absolutely ancient, so out of step with the times. He may be crazy or delusional or mad as a hatter, no offense to your skills, but I hate it when he’s gone. I miss him.” It still wasn’t an answer even if it was the truth. “Can I ask you something honestly?”
“If I were your patient, and I asked you whether I should build a life with Lucifer Morningstar or walk away, what would you tell me?”
Linda nodded, firm and certain, as if the question were obvious. “In any other case, I’d say you should walk away. He wasn’t kidding, you know, that first day we met. He’s walking heroin, and I suspect very little has ever ended well for him—or with him.”
“But in this case . . .” Chloe prompted, a little surprised to find that she needed there to be more, needed the reply not to simply be “don’t.”
“In this case, in your case, I’d tell you that a relationship with Lucifer Morningstar is likely to be rocky, confusing, maybe even dangerous.”
Chloe felt her heart drop, an unanticipated plunge that left her feeling cold.
“But,” Linda continued reaching out to her across the table like a lifeline, “I’d also tell you that he’s a very, very special man. A good man. And he deserves to have someone take that risk.”
Chloe gave a quiet huff of relieved laughter, a bit shaken by the strength of her own response. “I suppose that’s not just client bias?”
Linda pulled herself up straighter and crossed her legs, every inch the professional. “We’re friends—no, we’re Tribe, remember? I’m biased for both of you.” She grinned, bright and sincere and warm like the L.A. sun.
“And I suppose you can’t say exactly why he’s so special, can you?”
“Nope. Patient confidentiality.”
“But it’s substantial. It’s real?”
“You have no idea,” Linda said with feeling. “No idea.”
“I have no idea because no one will tell me.”
“ He will. Someday. Maybe soon. Maybe—” she shrugged, suddenly playful. “Maybe for a kiss?”
Chloe rolled her eyes dramatically and pushed her chair back from the table. “So, your professional advice is to play along? Go kiss his silly, pretending-to-be-asleep face? Do you know how weird that is?”
“I certainly do,” Linda said affably, rising with her. “But he’s weird, so best to get used to it. It’s also kind of sweet, though, don’t you think?”
“Sweet. Right.” Chloe thought about it a second. “In a weird kind of way, maybe.” She pushed open the interrogation room door, the noisy activity of the station filling the world with ordinary routine again.
“Sometimes we do crazy things for the people we’re crazy about,” Linda offered as she passed. “Sometimes they need us to.”
“That sounds like it’s spoken from experience.” Leaning closer as they walked together through the station, she asked, “Is that Dr. Linda Martin or 1-800-ProfessorFeelGood speaking?”
Linda laughed, delighted she remembered. “They’re the same person, my dear. Get a drink with me sometime after tonight, and we can talk about the benefit of having a few shades of self for different needs.”
“After tonight? But not tonight.”
“It’s Valentine’s, Detective Decker!” Linda said primly, poised at the bottom of the stairs. “I have plans for a drink with a few friends. You could join us, but you have a Prince to save.”
Chloe watched her go, not completely sure what she’d just agreed to or even if she’d agreed to anything. She felt better, and wanted to see Lucifer again. But before she could dwell too much on what that might mean, Ella rushed over from the evidence lab, giddy with excitement. Yesterday’s expedited DNA results were back, confirming their lead suspect—the one who had just purchased an immediate flight to Argentina. Chloe grabbed her coat, checked her gun in its holster, called for a backup team, and strode out to make the arrest.
Between a small hostage situation, some gunfire, a leaking fuselage, and a panicked airport, she didn’t think about Lucifer again until it was nearly midnight.
The line at Lux’s door still stretched down the street, the nightclub’s pounding music audible even over the traffic. Chloe hesitated just beyond the velvet ropes, wondering how long it would take to catch the bouncer’s attention and whether she dared flash her badge just to get in. She checked the time on her phone, determination wavering. Lucifer was probably working the club tonight or upstairs with special guests by now. It would do her no good to walk in on his holiday shenanigans, whatever they were. She wasn’t dressed for Lux, hadn’t had time to even grab a pre-packaged sandwich, had been awake too many hours without caffeine. She should just go back home, get some sleep, maybe try calling him in the morning.
“Decker! Get in here!”
Chloe looked up to find Mazikeen standing in the open club door, a vision in revealing red and black leather, chains, buckles, and spiked choker. She should have looked sensual, provocative, and dangerous, but instead she looked somehow frightened, almost panicked in a way Chloe had never seen. She waved Chloe past the ropes and the grumbling would-be patrons, seizing her arm in a painful grip and dragging her toward the private elevator.
“About damn time!” Maze shouted over the throbbing music, shouldering partiers out of their way with barely restrained violence. “Never a cop when you want one!” She stabbed the call button and, as soon as the doors opened, shoved Chloe inside. For a moment, Maze stood between the doors, holding them open long enough for Chloe to glimpse the genuine fear behind her eyes.
“Maze? What’s wrong?” Chloe reached for her, but a pair of large brown hands slid over Maze’s shoulders and tugged her away. Amenadiel emerged out of shadow and strobing light to pull Maze back against his chest in a hug that looked half like restraint. He met Chloe’s puzzled eyes solemnly and nodded quiet encouragement. Beside him stood the petite figure of Linda Martin in sparkling evening wear, an untouched martini glass in her hand. She caught Chloe’s eye with a small smile and, voice drowned beneath the driving beats, mouthed, We’ll be right here . The three of them made a strange little trio, each trying to hide distress, all of them looking at her with hope.
In spite of the heat from the crowded, surging nightclub, Chloe felt a sudden chill slide along her back. She started to speak, to ask them what was going on, but the doors slid shut and they were gone. The elevator began to rise, the club music fading away into a soft mechanical hum.
Looking around her at the golden backlit walls, Chloe bit her lip and tried to shake off the palpable sense of wrongness. She had ridden in this elevator hundreds, maybe thousands, of times, stepped out into Lucifer’s penthouse as comfortably as she did her own apartment. Before today, she had always looked forward to his brilliant grin of welcome, the inevitable banter, the warmth of his affection, or perhaps spent the brief ride stewing over his latest inexplicable misbehavior. Either way, she had never once been nervous as she watched the thirteen floors tick away, one by one.
She was nervous now.
What did she expect might happen? Worst case, Lucifer played some marvelously well-cast prank on her, and he would natter about it to Dan and Ella during their next case. Except she couldn’t actually imagine that of him. Or of Dr. Linda or Amenadiel. (Maze, maybe, but that was just everyday Maze.)
If she went through with this tonight, would he then expect her to play along with all sorts of boneheaded, lunatic things? But, she had to admit, he had never once asked her to do something so out of the ordinary before. Well, except believe he was the devil, but that was just such a part of him she barely noticed it anymore. She’d had her opportunity to prove him definitively wrong after Malcolm, had taken a blood swab off the hangar floor for that very reason. But she’d decided that it didn’t matter, that she didn’t need him to be wrong (or right, a little voice in her head suggested). She just needed him, in all his Luciferness.
In fact, rather than asking things of her, lately he’d done all sorts of things at her request that were clearly anathema to him. The policeman’s ball, for one, even though she was sure he had secretly enjoyed showing off on the dance floor. He had grudgingly watched Trixie more than once when the regular sitters called off at the last minute. (Trixie had loved making charcoal rubbings of the penthouse walls with him and had regaled her classmates and teachers with the most esoteric mythological stories for weeks afterward.) And then there was that whole undercover gay couples marriage counseling debacle. (She would owe Dan for that one for the rest of their lives, and probably still be laughing.)
When she really thought about it, he wasn’t asking for very much tonight at all. And maybe, as Linda suggested, he needed this. She already suspected that something in his past had damaged him so badly that he hid behind deviltry and debauchery like a shield. The edge of that hidden pain broke through every now and then, sharp and self-destructive, even suicidal. If anything would stave off a few of his monsters, why wouldn’t she help?
With a pang, Chloe wondered if this whole strange charade was one more effort to prove to himself that he couldn’t have—and didn’t deserve— whatever it was between them. That she would walk away when things got too difficult. Too weird. Too needed.
The doors whispered open and chimed once into the stillness.
Chloe looked around. The penthouse was lit only by the tree chandelier above the piano, its tiny, lightning-bug lights and root-like branches casting dim, twisted shadows over the floor. The whisky display was dark, the glitter of the skyline beyond the windows dimmed by thin curtains. A strange waft of smoke hovered in the air, as if a particularly acrid and sulfurous cigarette had been left smoldering somewhere out of sight. Chloe’s boots seemed unusually loud as she walked, the familiar room acoustics taking on a cavernous, empty sound belied by the furnishings she could see all around her.
Near the steps that led to Lucifer’s bedroom, something crunched underfoot. She looked down to see the brittle, withered tangles of briars scattered across the stone tiles. The once-red flowers looked ashen in the fickle light, only a few petals stubbornly clinging to their thorny branches. Something about the dead and dying plant sent another chill along Chloe’s spine, lifted the hair at the nape of her neck, and she stepped carefully over them.
Lucifer lay in darkness, the outstretched wings framing his shadowed form. He looked as though he hadn’t moved since she was last there, still posed almost as though on a crucifix. Warily, she sat beside him on the bed, reached out to stroke the soft feathers, and was surprised to find them colder than before, stiff and dry and less “alive.” She rested her hand in his open palm and found his skin to be equally cool to the touch, taut and rubbery like that of a body on the morgue slab.
Disturbed, Chloe fumbled about until she found the switch for the tiny lamp beside his bed, working instinctively against the first clutch of panic. In its halogen glow, she felt for a pulse point under his jaw, flattened her other hand in the center of his bare chest and was relieved when it shuddered and rose. She released a breath she hadn’t realized she was holding with an unprofessional gasp and sat back, eyes wide. Lucifer looked like a man who had been ill for weeks, wasted, his cheeks strangely sunken and the skin around his eyes bruised. The sharp white lamplight at her back cast monstrous shadows, caught on the angular edge of his ribs, created a pit that seemed to yawn on the other side of him in the now too-deep dark. Even the wings seemed edged with spreading black, as if they smoldered again, burning and smoking into the dark.
She shook herself, trying to break out of the unreality, the weird oppressive sense of pending disaster, the fantasy, the fairy tale that she could see and smell and touch him as he burned and faded into nothing like ash, like dying flowers crumbling to dust.
She heard his breathing catch, go still and hollow for several seconds, then start again.
“Damn it, Lucifer,” she whispered. “Why are you doing this?” The sound of her own shaky voice bolstered her against the darkness, the fear, the whole surreal experience. “If you jump up and scare me, I’m introducing those wings to your colon,” she told him, trying for brash. Of course, he didn’t respond.
With a sigh, she crawled carefully over the cold wing until she could kneel beside him in the bed. “Look,” she said, finding that talking to him made this whole thing seem a little less weird. “This is awkward as hell, I’ll have you know. And I wouldn’t do this for just anybody.” She wriggled around, trying to pull some of the long feathers from beneath her knees without toppling over onto him. “In fact, I wouldn’t do this for anybody else. Jerk.”
She touched his ribs experimentally, still disturbed by the coldness of his skin and the definition of the bones beneath her fingers. She slid both hands over his chest, trying to warm him with her palms, watching his face for any evidence of awareness. Nothing. Running her hands over his shoulders, she found space for them on the bed just above the feathers on either side, and leaned her weight up and over him until she was staring straight down into his sleeping face. “Linda asked me a question, you know,” she said to his closed eyes. “About us. And I told her you pissed me off regularly— you know, like now? And you made me laugh just as often. That you’re one of the strangest people I’ve ever known.” She huffed quietly. “And one of the best.”
Nose to nose with him, Chloe smiled. “She agreed with me, you know. She’s a smart woman. And because sometimes we do crazy things for the people we’re craziest about just because they need us to. . .”
She crossed the last inches and kissed him, tentatively at first, too aware of the cool, unresponsive lips beneath hers. They were dry, rougher than she remembered, and their stillness and the absence of breath made her want to pull back in concern. Instead, she murmured against them, soft and wishful, calling him. “Lucifer, come back to me. Please.” And pressed her mouth to his again as if she could breathe life back into him.
Warmth suffused his lips. The plane of his chest heaved beneath her as Lucifer drew a deep breath and exhaled it over her lips and into her mouth, sweet and smoky and furnace hot. With a harsh groan, he arched up into her kiss like a man starving. His tongue licked along her lower lip, slid against her teeth, seeking more. One hand tangled in the back of her hair, crushing her to him with an impatient strength she always forgot he possessed and that he never used with her, not like this.
Chloe laughed without breaking the kiss, breathless with relief, and Lucifer lifted her against him as he rose, growling, a low, dark sound just this side of feral. Pleasure shivered down her body in reply. She leaned into him, letting his other hand guide her across him, felt him against her thigh, fully woke and wanting. She nipped at his mouth, her fingers caressing the stubbled cheek and jaw, tracing a line down his throat. Just for a moment, she pulled back to see his face . . . and all sensation passed out of her on a wave a numb shock.
Lucifer’s eyes blazed red, alive with primordial fire.
She stared. The terrible, magnificent wings arced up behind him, very much attached and real and stretching to the walls. Beneath the skin of his shoulders, something shifted that should not be there, a ripple of inhuman anatomy that had long lain dormant. The rustle of feathers sounded like thunder, and then his voice—deeper than any human’s, rolling with chords not meant for mortal ears. “Human child,” the Devil said, head tilted, eerily familiar, horribly alien. “Be not afraid.”
She scrambled backward off of him, crouching warily at the foot of the bed and watching as he lifted one long-fingered hand, turning it over, flexing it, inspecting it from all angles. “It seems,” he continued, the sound reverberating against the corners of the room, “that I owe you a great debt.”
When the luminous eyes fell on her again, Chloe felt a wash of vertigo, remembered something that wasn’t there from so many months ago—a skinless, burned face that flickered in a reflective surface for a second, then vanished. The shine of orange eyes. And Lucifer, furious, standing over a terrified girl while Chloe held her gun on them both.
It was true. Lucifer was the Devil. Just as he had always said.
Digging her nails into the comforter, she swallowed, steadied herself, tried to think past the shock and fear. The creature, beast, Devil hadn’t moved since she had. He looked so much like the man she knew, observing her with open curiosity. The red eyes blinked a few times, and Chloe would have sworn under oath that the room around her cooled noticeably each time.
“What do you want?” she asked, proud of the evenness of her voice. Police training held in the most peculiar of circumstances.
“To reward you,” he answered, echoing faintly. “Tell me, child, what is it that you desire?”
Chloe stared at the Devil in amazement. And began to laugh.
She sat down on the rug, put her face in one hand, and chortled, wondering for a moment if she had finally gone insane. But she didn’t feel hysterical, just ironic and amused. What is it you desire, indeed. And it still didn’t work. The laughter that burst out of her in soft snorts and huffs sounded just like the laugh that sometimes offended her partner (because it was sometimes at his expense), the one that she hid behind a hand, a habitual eye-roll, and some quick talking to extricate them from whatever situation he’d accidentally created. “Oh my,” she said to the Devil on the bed. “You really are him.”
He frowned, and his uncertainty looked so familiar that Chloe started laughing all over again. “Who?” he asked when she got control of herself, dabbing her watering eyes with her sleeve.
“Lucifer.” Then, she clarified, apologetically. “The Lucifer I know. Don’t you remember?”
“Ah.” An almost disgruntled ruffling of feathers. “Remind me?”
“Well, Lucifer is my partner and my friend. He’s also an unbelievable dork,” Chloe said, still grinning a little. “He’s self-centered and arrogant and prissy and too comfortably rich. He drinks too much, does far too many drugs, has slept with more than half of the city, and takes the first Hawaiian bread sandwich without a thought. He makes me angrier than I’ve ever been with his cavalier attitudes, and . . .”
She looked up at the figure of the man she was describing, past the burning eyes and the slowly shifting wings. “And he never fails to be by my side when I’m desperate for help. He holds my hand when I’m waking up in the hospital and runs away when things get too close to right. He flirts mercilessly, but never takes advantage. He’s pathetic with children. And with emotions. And with casual wear. He’s unfailingly, unflinchingly honest. I trust him with my life, even though he’s scarred and damaged in ways I could never even imagine before right now.” Smile gone, her voice wavered. “I think—I hope he might even love me a little. I think I might—. Well, if he remembers. . .”
As she trailed off, the fire in his eyes flickered and faded, leaving only the pinpoint glimmer of the small halogen lamp in their depths. Lucifer stared at her, open-mouthed, his expression so much like pain that she reached for him instinctively, stopping only when he turned away in shame. “Chloe,” he rasped, his voice almost his own again.
“Hey, Lucifer,” she said with a crooked smile, swallowing the lump in her own throat.
Behind him, the gigantic wings trembled, buffeted by a nonexistent wind, then folded neatly and vanished as if they had never been. “I—I must apologize, Detective,” Lucifer said in desert tones, dry, cracked, unable to meet her eyes. He slid away from her, swung his legs over the edge of the bed, and tried to get to his feet. After an unsteady moment, he sank back down, shaking, not yet recovered. “I never wanted—I never meant for this to be how—.” He stopped, muscles tightening in his jaw.
She moved to sit beside him, watching his face. “Still woozy?” she asked gently.
He nodded, leaning forward to rest his forearms on his knees, head hanging.
“No running this time, okay?” she said.
His black eyes flicked up to hers, questioning, then away again. He didn’t try to speak.
“No hiding who you are,” she continued. “No avoiding me. I mean, things just got weird as hell, if you’ll pardon the pun. And I’m still right here.”
“Why?” Lucifer managed.
Without the wings, the lamplight spilled down the long arch of his back, unbroken skin where she had once seen cruel, gnarled scars. Softly, she drew her fingers along his shoulder blades, felt him shiver and take a shuddering breath. “Because I need to be,” she said simply.
“I’m dating the actual Devil,” Chloe said a few hours later.
“So it would seem,” Lucifer answered sleepily, still feeling the aftereffects of his magical coma. He lay stretched on the sofa with a tumbler of Macallan and his brave, compassionate, and very much in-the-know Detective tucked beside him, her head on his shoulder and her fingers trailing just inside his open robe. His only regret, he thought, was that both of them were far too clothed, and he was simply too tired to do anything about it.
“Supposedly, all girls want to date the bad boy.” She snorted. “Guess that means I won.”
Amused, he grinned down at the top of her head. “Indeed. The original bad boy, still in working order. Or will be, soon enough.”
“And he has wings. Wings.”
Lucifer wasn’t entirely sure how he felt about the fascinated awe in her tone. “For now. Until he can rid himself of them again.”
She sat up immediately, frowning. “Don’t you dare,” she told him, punctuating each word with a firm prod of one finger. “They’re beautiful. And you said they were behaving.”
He missed her warmth against his side, but relished the less tangible sensation spreading through him when she defended his troublesome wings. Still, he had his pride. “They’re a scorched ruin, Detective. I have a sneaking suspicion they’re trying to get back at me for burning them to just spite my brother.”
She gave him a skeptical look.
“Well, if they work like they’re supposed to, maybe I’ll keep them. Otherwise, I won’t put up with the irritating things. No matter how pretty.” He flicked one shining wing out behind him, feeling it pass effortlessly through his robe and the sofa as it should, pinions flaring before he vanished it again. “Can’t have them accidentally frightening random suspects and bitch slapping Detective Douche every time he walks by, now can we?”
“Why, no,” she said flatly. “I have absolutely no frame of reference for how to put up with an unruly, obstinate, attractive irritation.”
“Touché, Detective.” He gazed up at her appreciatively. Beautiful and clever and still here. “Well-played. Especially after our little misadventure.”
“Little misadventure?” she repeated. “Was that what it was?”
Once his head had mostly stopped spinning, Chloe had helped him stumble out of the bedroom to find the desiccated remains of the river briars. He nearly impaled a bare foot several times on the foul vegetation before they located the last stem. Swearing colorfully in all seven languages of the Silver City, he directed the Detective to sweep all of them up carefully and cast them forever into the fire. (The outdoor one on the balcony.) Poetic justice, if you asked him.
Over a scotch or four (for him) and a glass of wine for her, he tried to explain what he suspected must have happened, piecing together his memories and supplementing with Chloe’s experiences in between. No angel had ever woken from the Lethe’s defensive curse, so the temporary memory loss was new data about the fortifications of his old kingdom. Whether it was a natural property of the curse or a result of his vulnerability around the Detective, he hoped never to find out. The River specialized in oblivion, after all, so Lucifer counted himself a very lucky Devil.
In more ways than one. “I must say, you’re taking all this rather better than I expected.”
Chloe smiled fondly down at him, leaned over, and punched him square in the stomach.
Sloshing whiskey over himself, Lucifer covered his gut before she decided to strike again. “Damnation! What was that for?” he complained. “Hitting a man while he's down!”
“That’s for lying to me,” she said, lifting her chin.
“I never lied!”
“For not expecting better from me, then. For not trusting me.”
“I’m the Devil, Detective!” He pushed himself upright and reached for the bottle, refilling his glass in a huff.
“So?” she countered, giving him the cool stare she usually reserved for minor felons and grabby little cake monsters.
“So . . .” He swallowed a mouthful of the alcohol, felt it burn its way down and then, as always, fade into fumes. No running away, she’d said. No hiding. He placed the drink on the floor by his feet and turned to face her, accepting the full force of her disapproving gaze and mesmerized when he saw it begin to thaw. “I am trying, Detective,” he said earnestly. “Trust—trust comes hard for me.”
Mazikeen’s voice came from the elevator as she, Amenadiel, and Linda strolled in. All three looked distinctly smug and just a little relieved. “That’s not the only thing that comes hard with that one,” Maze said with a leer, helping herself to the open bottle as she led the others through to the balcony. “So, blow the dust off it, Decker. Happy Valentine’s. You’re welcome.”
Chloe flung herself back on the sofa and glared after her roommate. “I suppose she was actually forged in Hell?”
“What gave it away?” Lucifer watched his demon, his therapist, and his brother splitting the rest of the very fine old bottle of scotch. He smirked. “She’s not wrong, though. And if you need another opinion, Dr. Linda might be prevailed upon to offer a review.”
“Too bad someone slept through Valentine’s this year,” she said blithely, as if he wasn’t speaking. “The way I see it, you owe me a nice dinner, good wine, dancing, chocolate.”
“Deal,” he said quickly, since a Valentine’s re-do (without the frilly decorations) sounded just the thing. “Whatever you desire. No flowers, though, if you don’t mind.”
“No flowers,” she agreed with a short laugh. “And I expect we can figure out something we both desire.You know, like people in a mature, sustainable relationship sometimes do.”
“I’m one of the oldest beings in Creation, Detective. Surely that means I have an extraordinary track record when it comes to maturity and sustainability.” She made a face that he quite adored even though Linda claimed it indicated some level of exasperation on most humans.
When he stretched out his arm along the back of the sofa, she leaned into him as though she had always belonged just there. Resting his cheek against her hair, breathing the warm human smell of her, he closed his eyes and let weariness settle over him, quiet and comfortable and right.
“How much do you remember?” she asked quietly after a little while. “You weren’t quite yourself when you woke.”
“Oh, Detective,” he murmured into her ear. “I remember waking. I might not have had my higher faculties in those first few moments, but I can assure you, the lower ones were very much present.” He ducked his head to see her better. “It was me, you know.”
“I’m sorry if I scared you.” He truly had never wanted that, would have let her walk away rather than risking her any harm.
“Only for a moment. He—the you without those higher faculties—didn’t seem all that bad.”
He hesitated. No hiding. “I wasn’t. Not in the beginning. Later, though—”
“And not now, either,” she interrupted firmly, turning into him, her face lit with a sudden mischief he really rather liked. “But I can tell you what he was. He was a sinfully good kisser.”
Lucifer hummed, pleased. “Liked that, did you?” he purred, the hellfire rekindling in the back of his eyes. “I’m think I’m good for a repeat performance now. And, this time, all of me is available.”
“Prove it,” she murmured against his lips.
He did. It felt like the effortless joy of flight.