Hell was fluid, ever-adapting, designed to corrupt and punish any who walked through its gates. Its image shifted in a mimicry of its rulers' innermost values, the remnants of their soul or their Grace. Hell was its own plane, existing between the Earth and the Abyss, slightly shy of overlapping with Purgatory, built as a punishment for any who dared to cross the Almighty.
Pandemonium, however, was an ever-fixed mark, an unchanged paradise that almost rivalled Heaven itself.
Lucifer had carved the very foundations in a careful imitation of the palace he had once called home, designed each staircase and column with contempt.
If Hell is to be my Eternity, he had once believed, I will embellish it so as to make the Angels weep in envy.
He had been limited, of course. But as he paced the corridors once more, for the first time in ages, he felt a flicker of pride at his former achievements, dimming again at how lacking it truly was.
Naphtha fueled each light, each flicker merely a dim comparison to the stardust he had studied and grown by. The halls were gilded in tanzanite and zircon, each passage carved from quartz and ametrine.
It was an abomination, a weak mimic of halcyon mist, of the verdant glory, of the sheer iridescence of the Paradise he had abandoned.
It was, however, still his personal sanctuary. The arching ceilings, the marbled floors, the fountains flowing from the deepest springs, the furniture carved from trees older than civilization- It all was his.
Only the most loyal of his followers had been granted admittance, back in those glorious days when he had still been impassioned optimism, roiling hope. They had been Fallen, but they still had faith in their cause.
The Princes, his Knights-
Then, formidable legions of some of what had been some of Heaven's brightest, fiercest.
Now, all but gone, ashes of their former glory.
Pandemonium was all but silent, all but abandoned.
The only other occupant, save his bitter memories and wisps of nostalgia for former magnificence, was the soul currently stationed in his library. The very human soul, the only living being he would ever begin to consider letting into his haven, past all of his defences and riddles. They were the only being he trusted enough to collapse into, in those moments when the lingering black hole of that First War- the scar of Michael's blade- became too much for him to bare, before he Fell into the cavernous chaos of his mind and the cruellest of his memories.
And oh, his Father must be laughing at the sheer irony of this situation, commending Himself on a job well done.
The very creatures he had once despised so much, he now regarded with wary acceptance, some with a more begrudging fondness, comparable to that which he had only once felt for his brothers and sister. And that other, the vibrant, flickering spirit of pure curiosity, whimsy, and compassion-
He found himself flying to the library with only a thought, watching as this human positively glowed in contentment, shining nearly as bright as the morning whilst they took in the millions of tomes he had collected, the very hoard of knowledge leaving them with only awe and pure, iridescent joy.
He felt a smile of his own growing as the human- his human- skimmed their fingers across each binding, a sheen to their eyes reflecting the warm glow of the candlelight. Their lips were slightly parted, whispering with each title, faltering at names in languages that had come and passed long before the Silk Road, before the Persians, before the Greeks, before even the Ethiopians.
There was a reverence to their every motion, a gentle devotion to each book, every scroll. Each page was precious, each word a treasure beyond all compare, each letter worthy of devout worship and fidelity.
He found himself leaning against one of the many tables, arms folding in a habit formed during the time with his most loyal Vessel. Bemusedly, he noticed that they were pulling out a volume bound in stardust and white gold, shining with pearly opulence. Doubtful they could perceive the novel in its full glory, limited as their Sight was.
It had been written in the words before Enochian, a dialect spoken only by Chaos, by Amara, by his Father, by the other Archangels, by the Horsemen. It was a language older than all Creation, rumbling through the Abyss and refracting off all the untouched quintessence his Father praised so highly.
It had been one of the many books he had shared with Raphael and Gabriel, one that had lead to many a long-winded debate with Michael.
By human standards, it would be comparable to a children's book, perhaps The Hobbit. But he had memorized each brushstroke, could recite each passage upon request. It had been his favourite, since the first flutter of his Grace, since before Raphael had brought them wind and flight.
They were still skimming each page, turning away from the shelves to instead lean against them, eyebrows drawn together in concentration, in a feeble hope to comprehend markings older than the Cosmos.
With a slight lilt, he found himself speaking. "I could teach you the language, but it'd probably fry your brain."
Startled, they straightened their posture, almost slamming the book shut in their surprise. "Lucifer!"
He couldn't resist chuckling. "Sorry, sorry." His arms unfolded, hands moving into a gesture of surrender. "I didn't mean to frighten you."
The mild annoyance still lingered in the depths of their soul, but it was being cast away, stubborn denial rising in its place. "You didn't scare me." They closed the book with a mildly dispassionate huff, gently sliding it back to its place.
"Ah, my mistake." He bit his lower lip, arms refolding, amusement coursing through him. "Clearly I misread you, again."
"Obviously," came the haughty reply, playful in intonation, and in the half smile they wore as they approached him. Casually, they joined him at the table, mimicking his posture, sliding until they were all but touching.
Their amusement faded, their sparkling energy shifting to more somber tones, cautious, concerned. "What's up, Luce? Y'alright?"
He offered a sneer. "Your affinity for bastardizing English beyond what has already been done for Latin and German is truly disturbing."
"Shut up; you love me."
He huffed out a laugh at their confidence, but was soon all but falling apart when they dropped their head against his shoulder, eyes still full of wonder tracing over the wall of literature before them, warmth and care offered in each heartbeat.
It was silent for what he knew to be only moments, brief even by human standards-
But it felt like an eternity.
"Thank you; it's beautiful."
Each breath tingled across his skin, each inhale drawing his devotion, each exhale securing his vulnerability.
His eyes closed, a wary long-standing defence against the havoc of the Cage, suddenly fearful that these sensations were yet another punishment, one in Epochs of torment.
The warm weight on his arm, the fingers weaving with his own, the cricking of the nearby candles, the trails of smoke and the lingering hints of apple- all fabrications of his cell, handcrafted and detailed by the very entities that his Father had forsaken.
When his eyes opened, it would be gone, nothing except the reaching, mawing nether of the Abyss beneath him, Chaos and His Court always waiting for him, escape eluding him when his wings were burnt and severed and polluted by millions of years of torture.
He was surely alone, a son who still loved his Father beyond measure, able to do nothing as his kin surrendered to the corruption of Hell, Fallen almost indistinguishable from the demons he had created.
When his eyes opened, he would wake up from this dream, in a world without redemption, without hope, without the promise of a brighter future shining in his son's eyes.
He was surely alone.
The press of a thumb caressing his wrist, tracing each vein, lingering at the sensitive juncture between arm and hand, gently summoning surrender from compiling nerves and veiled nebula- It was a fiction.
Father did not distribute mercy, and this-
His had was being lifted, two sets of fingers clasped around it, weaving between his own. Rough lips, gentle breaths fluttered over the pads, vivid phantoms from a world he would never know.
Hazy whispers of a ghost in another life, where each syllable was whispered like a prayer, with a reverence and love he did not deserve-
It clouded his mind, brought him so close to opening his eyes.
Warmth shifted away from him, though his hand remained entrapped, by his will, in one of their own. Their other was an unexpected presence on his cheek, firm and solid, even as it shifted back, fingers carding in his hair, pulling his head down. They were warm, insistent, and radiated an inherent adoration that sparkled through even his closed eyelids.
"Come back to me."
He inhaled sharply, reflexes urging him away, muscles tensing as he pulled himself together, Lieutenant-Strategist-Inventor determined not to submit to the trickery, to the Cage's cruellest deception yet.
But the hands held firm, one the gentle brush of stardust on his open palm, tracing sigils and the patterns of his name, ceaselessly, endlessly, faithfully.
The other was a firm vice, holding him fast to the realm he knew could only be a fiction, fingers clawing desperately into the base of his neck, his head bowed in forced acquiescence.
It was a yearning sigh, a desperation in their voice that drew his desire to remain, to cling to this dream, hold fast to the fervent peace it offered.
But it was just a dream, nothing more.
It would never be more.
His Father had encaged him, his brother despised him, his True Vessel damned him-
There was a warmth against his forehead now, all thoughts short-circuiting, falling away at the familiar pressure of their lips, the pleading tremor in each breath that fell into his hair. They pulled away slowly, crowns meeting almost immediately.
"Open your eyes."
It was an order, a command.
They spoke with the righteous dominance of any Infernal general, of each Empyreal commander, the rumble ricocheting through every single doubt, the demand carving away each layer of disbelief and fear and dread.
To the very depths of his core, every flickering ember of his Grace, all remaining Glory and Majesty-
He was still a soldier of God, originally bred for full faith and blind obedience.
With the surging force of a tsunami, the determined flight of a hurricane, and the confidence of a comet, he launched away from Doubt, fought away from the clinging webs of Panic, ripped away from the grasping claws of Pain, ignored the remaining jibes of Rumour.
Lucifer opened his eyes, nearly blinded by the brilliance of the relieved soul clinging to him, holding fast to him, wisps of their aura clutching to him as if he were their most cherished possession, nearly lost to Time and Space.
He regarded the last few moments- hours? days?- critically, suddenly very aware that, perhaps, they most definitely had almost lost him, forever.
With a sigh, his arms wrapped around them, a dozen mangled wings folding forward to provide a barrier around them both. It was a presence they could feel, never see.
They let out a breath of surprise, falling into his frame, their own arms instinctively wrapping around him.
For a moment, just a moment, he simply breathed.
Offered a silent prayer to his Father for the miracle that was holding him as if he were the most precious thing in all Creation.
He pressed a soft kiss to their crown, silently pledging himself once more to their happiness, humbled once again in the face of their compassion, their longing to protect him.
And now, entirely unbeknownst to them, they had saved him, bringing him back from the depths of Ruin, saving him from succumbing to the Emptiness that lay beyond Creation, beyond the Empyreal, beyond Perdition and Purgatory.
Single-handedly, unwittingly, this human had helped him draw away from the brink.
He owed them everything.
"Wanna get some gelato? I know this great place outside Vatican City."
His words startled a laugh, warm and gentle and most assuredly real.
He allowed himself to melt into it, a small chuckle of his own escaping in his relief, his delight.
"I thought you wanted a night in?" The soft puff of air teased his hair, lingered near his ear. A hand rubbed circles in his back, unconscious movements of a restless mind.
Turning his head, he gently bumped it against their own. "Who said anything about leaving?"
"Devious little shit," they whispered, shivering at his playfulness, at the intentional way he hovered near their temple, the fingers in his back lightly clawing into his jacket as he held onto them, his lips curling at their imminent surrender.
"I say some gelato, some cider, a little jazz, maybe a blanket fort-" He trailed off, withdrawing only just enough to study their eyes, to commit the thousands of flickering emotions to memory, to float in the heady rush of their thoughts.
He was alarmed to discover that there was no fierce optimism, or the bright longing he expected, only concern, worry, sympathy. "What is it?"
Their lips parted, closed, were drawn in by teeth in an attempt to restrain free thought. It was a grievance that only mildly irritated him; he understood the value they placed on their words, respected their faith in the power of language.
Finally, a moment, a lifetime, an age later, they gave reply. "We don't have to stay here, Lucifer. We can go to Rome, if you'd prefer."
"Lucifer." They said his name in that sharp tone again, full of majesty and condemnation, eliciting his pride and his adoration. He granted them his submission, pulling away enough to gesture for them to continue.
They offered a small smile, the tremulous flicker of an apology marring their features before they continued. "Thank you for this. For showing me Pandemonium, for sharing this with me, for proving my theory that you have obnoxious dragon-like hoarding tendencies."
The words summoned a chuckle out of him, brought to the forefront of his mind the idea to introduce them to the draconian creatures hibernating not even four chambers over. During another visit, perhaps.
His amusement earned a watery smile from his companion, their hand rising to his cheek once more as solemnity reclaimed them. "You're haunted, sweetie. I can see it; this place is beautiful, but it's clearly stained with a lot of bad memories. We don't have to stay."
He allowed himself to relax into the comfort of their touch, anchoring himself in this moment, in the familiarity.
He considered, the offer a temptation worthy of surrendering to.
But he knew that they wanted to stay, their curiosity and awe a lingering tangibility in the air around them. Being here, surrounded by all the words that his Father and Humanity and the Angels and the Gods had ever written-
For his beloved, this was a Heaven in Hell, their own Paradise in the heart of Pandemonium.
And yet they were willing to abandon it forever, cast it all away in favour of his happiness, his comfort, his desires.
He shouldn't be surprised by that singular, overarching difference between them. He was proud and steadfast, rarely willing to compromise, and they were always putting others before themself.
Carefully, he lifted his hand to cover their own, guiding their fingers from his cheek to his lips, lingering on each knuckle like some romanticized knight, pledging fealty to their monarch. His thumb traced their wrist, exploiting the weakness, and he savoured each tremor in their breath, each skittering hiccup dancing through their pulse.
"Someone once told me that the best way to banish bad memories is to replace them with good ones," he hummed, eyes drifting shut for a moment.
There was nothing between them for several breaths until a small snicker escaped their lips. "I'm so gonna tell Charlie that you're stealing her philosophies now."
His eyes flashed open, narrowing at the lighthearted sparkle to their smile. "Do so, and so-help-me-Dad, I will smite you myself."
They pressed most of their amusement away, their own eyes narrowing in determination, brows lifting ever-so-slightly in challenge. "I am immune, sir, both to your charms and to your threats."
He hummed, pondering for scarcely an instant before he was spinning them around and then lifting, moving with fluidity faster than a breath, faster than the shuttering of a blink. By the time they could process what he was doing, he was halfway to the nearest loveseat, laughing at their protests and the frantic way they threw their arms around his neck. "Lucifer!"
There was a grumbling from his side, one that was fully irate. "You're despicable."
He beamed, setting them carefully onto the red velvet. "And you, my dear, a divine delight."
Their expression summoned another laugh out of him, one that slowly melted away their faux disgust at his words.
He dropped his weight beside them, intentionally angling himself to cause them to lose their balance, frantically flailing as they fell into his side. Before they could right themself, he wrapped a firm arm around them, trapping them into his side.
There was a huff, a folding of arms. "Definitively diabolical."
He played mock offence, turning to face them as his free hand pressed to his chest. "Moi? Excuse you, but I am an Angel."
The fond exasperation eclipsing their bemusement relayed how decidedly annoyed they were with his charade. "You are literally the Devil."
"How astute of you."
Silence fell once more, interrupted when he summoned Cosmopolitan Orchestra, a blanket, and the book his human had been so curious about earlier.
Their eyes met his cautiously, shining in restrained wonder and hope. He fought a smile, offering his own curiosity, sincerity lacing his every annunciation. "The offer still stands; do you want me to teach you?"
They watched him carefully, offering no judgement, only appraisal. Something they found in his eyes eased their tension, brought a sigh of surrender. "I'd prefer you just read it to me, actually."
They shifted, back in his side, their legs propped onto the opposing arm of the loveseat. He didn't resist the urge to temporarily burrow into their hair, patiently waiting for them to grow comfortable again.
There was a nod, slow as not to harm him, and a whisper. "Please, Lucifer?"
He could no longer restrain the wave of fondness, turning away with contentment he had not experienced in Eons. "As you wish."
The story rumbled from his chest, the sheer sublimity and magnificence of the tale limited, descriptions lost in translation. It was still enough however, his voice weaving together images of Light and Grace and Hope and Adventure and all those other good things he had basked in before the Fall.
And as the brilliant, incandescent flickering soul in his arms shifted, had him pause to answer their inquiries, laugh at his anecdotes-
Lucifer felt the flickering forges of his faith ignite again, the gusts of their adoration stirring the smouldering embers of his Grace.
If this human could forgive him, could find comfort and warmth and joy in his presence-
Maybe there was reason to hope for him yet.
Synchronously, somewhere deep in the forgotten nethers of fire and brimstone, Chaos roared.