The truth is that falling hurts. The dare is to keep being brave and feel your way back up.
- Brené Brown
He was a monster.
She’d trusted him. Let him into her life. Loved him.
When she tried to inhale, her breath caught in her throat. Desperate.
She should have known. She’d seen the signs. Reaching out, her fingers found only air; everything solid had vanished. The cold settled in her bones. Certainty lay as heavy as lead shot in her belly. Each breath emerged closer to a gasp now, the terrified sound of a trapped animal with no way to escape.
Panicked, heart pounding, she turned, expecting to see him looming, but—
“Are you kidding me?” Instead of delivering her line—and it had been a perfect take—Bianca Bennett stomped her foot and scowled past the lights. “That was your cue, Carlos.”
“Cut!” shouted Anton. “Jesus Christ, where’s the talent? I thought you said he was standing by!”
“He was,” said a beleaguered PA. Sally? Sarah? Something. Bianca wasn’t sure. “And then you made them reset the lights fifteen times to get the—”
The director’s glower silenced S-something. Everyone else milling about the set suddenly looked anywhere but at her. “Could someone who hasn’t just been fired drag Carlos’s sorry ass out of whatever hellhole he’s hidden it in? If he’s not here in fifteen, tell him he can join what’s-her-idiot here.”
S-for-Simpleton opened her mouth, but Callie, the director’s assistant, only shook her head and pulled her thumb across her throat in a distinctly final gesture. Before So-Long could make the mistake of speaking again, the script supervisor jumped up and grabbed her by the arm.
“Is he serious? He’s not serious!”
As the girl’s voice faded into the darkness beyond the ring of lights, Callie said, “I’ll find him, boss. Someone’ll bring you a coffee.”
It wasn’t a request; a different PA—oh, wait, maybe this one was the S-name—scrambled to do Callie’s implied bidding.
“I want a half-caf latte with one pump regular and two pumps sugar-free vanilla—yes, I can tell—half-almond, half-oat, extra foam,” Bianca demanded, striding to her waiting chair and sinking into it. “In a mug, for God’s sake; think of the environment.” She turned a glare on the director. “I don’t know what kind of set you’re running here, Anton, but it’s him or me if he pulls one more stunt like this.”
“Bianca, darling,” Anton soothed. “Callie’ll be back in no time.”
“I’m a professional. A professional. I’m not getting paid enough to redo perfect takes.”
Someone snorted behind her. Bianca turned in her chair, scowling into the dark. “Who was that? If you have something to say, you can say it to my face.” Vague shapes moved around beyond the lights still set for her doomed scene. “Can someone get the room lights? I don’t see why we should all sit here in the dark because Carlos couldn’t be bothered—”
The overheads flared and stole the rest of Bianca’s words.
Carlos hadn’t disappeared.
He’d been in the room the whole time.
He sat on the floor next to the craft table, back pressed ramrod straight against the wall, with an open bottle of water still clutched in his hand—he’d squeezed it hard enough that his fingers and his costume were wet. As much panic and terror as Bianca had just summoned for her scene filled his wide eyes. His parted lips made it appear he’d died screaming, but surely they’d have heard it if he had.
“Not again,” Bianca said, and fainted.
“It’s all true.”
Chloe’d had a heartbeat of certainty on the roof, enough to send her bolting down the stairs as fast as her still-wobbly legs and still-shallow breaths could take her when she heard gunshots. But then, as she’d descended each floor, the conviction had crumbled like it’d done half a dozen other times before. Her partner wasn’t actually the Devil. Supernatural. Something. There had to be a sane, reasonable explanation for how he’d carried her up so many goddamned floors without waking her, never mind getting away from all those men with all those guns. For his voodoo eye trick. For the way people reacted to him. For his strength.
For the particular expression of pain he wore whenever she brushed off his metaphors.
Hadn’t she been telling herself the same lies all along?
Because weren’t some lies easier to swallow than the truest truth?
Her eyes were dry, but she couldn’t blink.
He had no idea what she was looking at.
What she wanted, what she wanted more than anything, was to say something to take the tremor of worry from his voice. Because behind the scars and burns and—how did anyone survive the kind of trauma?—and eyes, she saw Lucifer. Of course. Her Lucifer. The one who brought her lemon bars and her favorite coffee without asking. The one who made ridiculous jokes and ridiculous omelettes, who was vain about his hair and his clothing and his car, who talked about sin like it was an old friend even though he was so, so good about what mattered, about what counted.
The one who’d told her over and over and over and over who he was.
No metaphors, then.
“It’s all true.”
Chloe took a step backward, then another, and when her heel hit the bottom of the stairs, it seemed like an overwhelming indication that she should just … sit. To think. For a second. Take it in. Just … take it in.
And there was Marcus—Pierce—Cain?—on the floor, with one of Maze’s knives—Maze, who was a demon, an actual demon, a babysitting demon, oh my God—jutting out of his chest, and she didn’t know how to process that, either, because apparently he was the world’s first murderer and he’d shot her, he’d shot her point-blank, and she couldn’t pretend the difference of an inch, two inches wouldn’t have ended her.
Why hadn’t he gone for the head?
He could’ve gone for the head.
He could have gone for Lucifer’s head, for that matter. Chloe was many things, but six-foot-towering wasn’t one of them.
“Detective,” Lucifer repeated, not a question this time. His voice. It was definitely his voice. She’d have known that voice anywhere. She’d have known the distress in it. “I know … I know how this must look—”
It looked like her partner was the actual Devil. It looked like her ex was dead and she couldn’t even feel bad about it. It looked like Lucifer had been shot over and over and over because his dress shirt was pocked with bullet-frayed holes. Bloodless. And a cut on his upper arm. Bloody.
She couldn’t help the funny little sound that escaped her, something between a cry and a laugh. It burned. No. Bad choice of words. It hurt.
The face was all wrong—all wrong and yet right and how could she have doubted him for so long?—but it still moved like his face. The ridges above his occipital bones drew together under the scarred skin the way they’d have done if he had eyebrows to furrow. No wonder he was vain about his hair. No wonder he was—
He took a step toward her, slowly, and reached out. Saw his own hand. Stopped. He breathed a word. She thought it was no. And then he made a noise, as if a knife had just slipped between his ribs, as if he were the one about to fall to the floor and not get up again. He didn’t, but in the instant between her blinks, he was himself again, far too pale and looking older than he’d ever looked before. Somehow the darkness in his eyes was worse than the fire had been.
It reminded her, inexplicably, of Lucifer standing in the middle of a hospital lobby, arms wide, expression hopeless, taunting a sniper.
No, she wanted to say. Or maybe, don’t.
Instead, she dropped her head into her hands because walking around the world carrying the weight of her own skull seemed impossible. At the moment, it was impossible. Everything was impossible. She had proof—she always needed proof—and it was impossible. She closed her eyes, just to think, just to take it in, and inhaled as deeply as her bruised ribs would allow.
When she opened them again, her gaze snagged on a blood-limned white feather between her feet. Even torn and stained, it was beautiful. It almost glowed, even though it lay in the shadow of her foot. She’d seen some on the roof, too, hadn’t she? Heard the sound of wind when she was caught in the twilight world between waking and sleeping, heart stuttering against the pain of the blow that had nearly undone her, vest or no vest.
She’d heard gunshots, then, too.
She’d thought it was a nightmare. An echo. Her mind panicking because of how close Marcus’ shot had been.
I don’t want to die.
He could have gone for the head.
When she released her breath, the feather rocked back and forth.
“Lucifer,” she said, high and strange and not like herself at all. “Do you … have wings?”
He didn’t answer.
Marcus lay where he’d fallen.
The murder weapon was gone.
So was Lucifer.
She heard the sirens then, wailing in the distance. Dan would’ve called for a circling of the wagons the second he realized how in over their heads they were. Probably half the city’s force was on its way. They were definitely too close for her to do anything but wait—her partner absent, her hands empty—next to the dead lieutenant she’d almost married, whose body would hold a bullet fired from her gun and an inexplicable stab wound with no weapon; surrounded by blood and feathers she couldn’t possibly explain, and which, she was certain, would provide exactly nothing except further mysteries when forensics got ahold of them.
They were going to have her badge for this.
And she couldn’t even bring herself to care.
Because it was all true.
Lucifer. God. Angels. Demons. Heaven. And Hell.
She picked up the feather and tucked it into a pocket before putting her head in her hands again.
She waited for them to come.
The Feds handled everything. As expected, really, when cops got shot at by their lieutenants, when those lieutenants turned out to be connected to murder and crime the likes of which staggered the imagination. Charlotte Richards had seen only the tip of the iceberg. Chloe didn’t say, “You don’t know the half of it,” even though she’d googled “Cain” on her phone and had read through as much as she could before her head started swimming. All the creepy rocks in Marcus—Cain’s house began to make a horrible kind of serial-killer-keeping-trophies sense.
God, there had been so many of them.
She told the Feds what she could without sounding like she’d gone the kind of crazy that would ensure she never saw her badge and her gun or maybe even her kid ever again.
“Where is your partner now?” they asked.
She said, “I don’t know.”
Hell, maybe, she thought but didn’t say. But I hope not.
She didn’t ask questions; no point. They couldn’t tell her anything she didn’t know already, and they certainly wouldn’t let her know what their theories were. Not about something like this. And even though she knew she could have completely explained the truth, she held her tongue.
“Don’t leave town,” they said, not without compassion. “We’ll be in touch.”
Chloe didn’t leave town. She barely left her apartment. She and Dan sent Trixie to visit his parents for a month, and Chloe considered how stupid they’d been to both get in over their heads on a case that could very well leave Trixie with two parents either unemployed or imprisoned.
Or killed, said a little voice in the back of her head. Chloe wasn’t naive enough to believe a network like the Sinnerman’s would collapse just because they wanted it to.
She didn’t go to Lux; she didn’t think she could bear walking into a room seething with ghostly sheets again. Even if the FBI got ahold of him, it wasn’t like the Devil—the real, actual, Devil—needed to heed human law enforcement if he didn’t want to. His disregard for following rules made a lot more sense now. A lot of things made a lot more sense.
Except, perhaps, why he’d stayed so long. Why he’d been content to let her call so many of the shots so much of the time. It’s been ages since I sat in a throne. Not a metaphor. Never a metaphor.
Lucifer didn’t call her. She didn’t call him; being shunted to his voicemail would have been, somehow, worse than walking into an empty apartment. She didn’t even text; she dreaded being left on read more than hearing Lucifer’s voice asking her to leave a message.
After the first couple of days, Dan stopped asking about him. After the first week, on their daily phone calls, Trixie stopped asking, too.
The Feds weren’t in touch—not with her, not with Dan, not with Ella. Not after their initial debriefs. Ella went back to work first. Then Dan. Chloe woke every morning wondering if the day would end with her being hauled off in cuffs. She wasn’t stupid. Someone who could do the kinds of favors Marcus—the Sinnerman—had been doing had to have connections that ran deeper than any the LT of a single department in a single precinct could call on.
But no one came.
Three weeks after her interview with the Feds, the new lieutenant summoned her to the precinct. According to Dan, the LT’s name was Kemp; she was tall, smart, and had a good laugh; and so far, at least, she seemed fair. According to Ella, Kemp was a literal Amazon—“Totally Wonder Woman worthy! Or maybe like Lady Thor!”—who’d actually eaten the doughnuts Ella brought in; very much a point in her favor.
Feeling nervous because she didn’t have the slightest idea what Kemp might want with her, Chloe took extra care with her outfit, went professional-but-polished with her hair and makeup, and called an Uber because she didn’t have a cruiser and wouldn’t have trusted herself to drive even if she had.
Her desk hadn’t been cleared in her absence. Even the plant she’d bought to replace the one Lucifer had killed via his liberal application of alcohol looked healthy; she’d expected to come back to skeletal branches and a pile of dead leaves.
She stopped herself, just barely, from doing a double-take when she saw Lucifer. Instead of his usual crowd of admirers, he remained aloof and silent, gazing into some middle distance with an expression both bored and annoyed.
Even with everyone giving him a wide berth, he looked distressingly normal. He stood to one side, well away from her desk, dressed in black from head to toe. Even his pocket square was black. The unrelenting darkness did too much to highlight the dark circles under his eyes; he looked tired and severe. Because she was watching for it, she saw the subtle shift in his posture when she entered; he knew she was there. Lucifer didn’t look at her, though, and didn’t take a step in her direction. He didn’t even reach up to adjust his cuffs. She hadn’t known he could be so still.
A hand dropping onto Chloe’s shoulder saved her the awkwardness of deciding what to do. Chloe jumped, half-turning. The woman standing behind her was a stranger—the new LT, she surmised. She wore her strawberry-blonde hair in a ponytail, tendrils of hair falling to highlight beautiful cheekbones in an otherwise rather blunt face. Instead of sharp business casual, she wore slim-fitting jeans, red ballet flats, and a loose linen tunic the same blue as her eyes.
“You must be Decker,” she said in a pleasant, jovial voice. “I’m Lieutenant Faith Kemp. Your partner’s already here. We need to talk.”
Chloe wasn’t sure anything good had ever followed those particular words, but she tried to keep her expression from betraying the way her stomach twisted. “Yes, ma’am.”
Kemp smiled; Chloe wasn’t sure she’d ever seen a face so transformed by the gesture. Her eyes sparkled with a hint of tamped-down mirth and the barely controlled cheerfulness of a golden retriever. “Sorry we’ve had to keep you out of the loop,” said Kemp as she held open the door of her office. The several bracelets encircling her wrist jangled.
Chloe scanned the room, automatically checking her corners. Not a single piece of furniture was the same. Chloe almost might’ve called the office cozy if it hadn’t belonged to a police lieutenant. Instead of dim lights and artful shadows, warm, golden bulbs lit the room; instead of cool chrome and black, Kemp had gone for wood and multicolored fabric that should have clashed but somehow didn’t.
Everything about it was more inviting that Marcus’s office had been.
No rocks as decor, for one thing.
“Mr. Morningstar, Faith Kemp. I’d like to apologize for the … misunderstanding.”
“There was no misunderstanding, I assure you.”
Chloe didn’t turn, but his voice was so close when he spoke it took an effort to keep from jumping out of her skin. That Lucifer didn’t immediately make a disparaging comment about Kemp’s given name was just wrong.
Kemp chuckled; her laugh was even more pleasant than her smile. “Kind of you to say so.”
“It is not kindness.”
Chloe didn’t know the subtext of what they were saying and wasn’t sure she wanted to. Lucifer sounded even cooler and more distant than he’d looked standing outside. Chloe crossed the office and sank into one of the two chairs that had been pulled up in front of the LT’s desk. It was more comfortable than she expected; certainly more comfortable than Mar—the last set.
From the corner of her eye, Chloe saw Lucifer sit primly in the other chair. He didn’t acknowledge her here any more than he had in the bullpen; she tried to convince herself the tightness in her throat had nothing to do with tears.
Kemp, sitting behind her desk and leaning forward on her forearms, interrupted Chloe’s melancholy. “Right,” she said, “I genuinely wish we weren’t meeting under these circumstances. We’ve heard so much about you guys and your ridiculous solve rate. It’s a real honor.”
“But?” asked Lucifer, lazily crossing one leg over the other and folding his hands on his knee. “I trust there is a ‘but’ coming?”
The lieutenant’s smile turned rueful, and she tipped her head toward Lucifer to acknowledge his point. “But,” she said, “even though the Feds have mostly finished with their investigation, we can’t quite bring you back yet. See—”
“Unacceptable,” said Lucifer, with just enough affront that Chloe turned to face him. Her twisted stomach turned into full knots; her savings weren’t in a great place, but she wouldn’t have to move immediately, and if she—
Lucifer glowered straight ahead, fixing Kemp with an unblinking stare. “I made myself quite clear. The Detective—Detective Decker—had no part in the … affair. She was a victim. She deserves no punishment for my crimes.”
Kemp cleared her throat, a little of her brightness dimming. “The Feds decided in your favor, Mr. Morningstar. They, uh, decided you needed no punishment either. Sorry. Should’ve led with that. To be honest, I thought they’d already contacted you.”
Chloe pressed one hand to her stomach and finally found her voice. “Then why can’t we—I—” She stumbled over the word, which only made her throat tighten even further. She knew Lucifer would’ve heard it. “Sorry. What’s the problem?”
Kemp shook her head, turning her hands palms-up on the desk. “Let’s start over. The department has a request for you. You need to understand that this isn’t an order, even though it’s related to a case.”
Chloe nodded. Lucifer said nothing, but Chloe was pretty sure he hadn’t blinked in far too long. Funny. She’d never noticed that before, either. Or, if she had, she’d dismissed it, just like she’d dismissed every other little oddity that didn’t perfectly align with ‘human being, totally normal, nothing to see here.’
“Does the name Carlos Fontaine mean anything to you?”
Before Chloe could reply, Lucifer said, “He was in Hot Tub High School. Good arms. Undersized—”
“Of course,” Chloe interrupted.
“Then you’ll also remember Felix Carding?”
Chloe nodded, frowning. This time, Lucifer did not share his impressions. Carlos had played the skeezy love interest; Felix had been one of his sycophantic wingmen. When the cameras weren’t rolling, they had been fun-loving pranksters who fed off each other. They’d also been tremendously supportive of the relative newcomer with the quasi-famous mom. Felix told her he had a Penelope Decker poster in his bedroom; she’d rolled her eyes but secretly thought it was kind of nice.
Kemp grimaced. “Both have turned up dead.”
“Dead,” Lucifer repeated.
“Murdered?” asked Chloe.
“That’s where things get … complicated.”
Chloe listened with increasing confusion as Kemp outlined what she knew. Both men had died on set—different movies, months apart. Carding’s death had been ruled heart failure three months previous, even though a recent physical exam had indicated he was at the peak of health. His co-star, Bianca Bennett, had told anyone who would listen—and a lot of people listened—it looked like he’d died of fright.
A week ago, Carlos had also died on set. On a film also starring Bianca Bennett. Who had been quick to declare that maybe once was bad luck, but two deaths of fright had to be more than a coincidence.
“She’s certain there’s—and I know this sounds ridiculous—some kind of killer out there using fear as a murder weapon. And that they’re coming for her next.”
“Sounds like Bianca,” Lucifer agreed.
Chloe frowned. She shouldn’t have been the least bit surprised. And yet, somehow, in some stupid way she had no control over, it still stung.
Kemp sighed, leaning back in her chair and folding her hands over her stomach. “Of course, we know the likelihood of someone weaponizing fear is pretty slim, but … between you and me? It’s been a rough year for the suits downtown. This whole, uh, Sinnerman-in-the-midst thing hasn’t been great for publicity. Or image. Or, quite frankly, morale.”
Not that far-fetched. Chloe didn’t look at Lucifer. He’d certainly left people gibbering wrecks. Was it so hard to imagine death-by-fear as a next logical step? Not that she suspected him, but if he had that kind of power maybe … other things did, too?
She had to consider that now, didn’t she? Other things. Things she’d have scoffed at the way she’d scoffed at Lucifer when he first introduced himself as the Devil, or when he’d first mentioned the Sinnerman, or when he’d tried to explain that Marcus was Cain. If the Devil was real, were vampires? Ghosts? El Chupacabra?
She blinked. Kemp regarded her with the kind of mild confusion that clearly indicated Chloe had been asked a question and hadn’t answered. She didn’t bother pretending she’d been listening. After a moment, Kemp said, “We—I, really—want to know if you’d consider going undercover.”
A skittish little laugh escaped before Chloe could swallow it. “Sorry? My acting career was short, but that world’s pretty small. If they don’t know me, they’ll know my mom. And everyone will know who I work for. Actress-becomes-cop isn’t a story people forget.”
Had things been less strained between them, Chloe might’ve imagined the soft huff of Lucifer’s released breath was a chuckle.
“Right,” said Kemp. “And that’s why I’m firing you.”
Chloe froze. The sound of her blood pounding in her ears momentarily drowned out everything else. Questions rose up in the back of her throat like sour vomit.
“Forgive my being pedantic,” Lucifer said, almost lazily, “but doesn’t relieving the Detective of her position preclude the notion of her being undercover?”
“Exactly,” said Kemp, pointing a too-cheery finger gun in Lucifer’s direction. “Look, everyone knows you two were eyeballs-deep in the whole Pierce thing; it’s pretty damned hard to hide a broken engagement followed by a death that basically unearths a crime syndicate that makes Capone’s look like a small-time side-hustle. That Pierce was killed during a slow news period has kept the whole thing in the public eye a hell of a lot longer than anyone, especially the brass, wanted.” Kemp paused, dipping her head toward Chloe. “Thanks for not talking to them, by the way. They must be hounding you.”
“No?” Chloe glanced slantwise at Lucifer; his expression was so blank and composed she knew he was probably behind whatever invisible Reporters Do Not Cross barricade had been erected around her. “Ma’am, honestly, I’m still not sure what you’re asking me to do.”
“I’m getting there.” Kemp rose. She was so tall Chloe had to either stare at the lieutenant’s expressive hands or risk a crick in her neck trying to watch her face. She chose the hands. “I’m thinking we can use this … notoriety to our benefit. If I fire you—publicly, maybe with a side of humiliation—”
“No,” said Lucifer.
“—Then you can, also publicly, cut ties with the LAPD and return to your acting career. Mr. Morningstar’s got connections. I’m sure between the three of us we can come up with a plausible story. In fact, I’ve been thinking—”
Lucifer repeated, “No,” more firmly. Chloe wondered if the Sahara was as dry as her throat. Seemed unlikely.
Grimacing, Kemp spread her hands wide and stepped to the front of her desk, leaning on it. “Neither of you is really going to be fired, of course. You get that, right?”
Chloe cleared her throat. With no small amount of difficulty, she said, “Ma’am, could—I think I need some water.”
Lucifer half-rose, but Kemp waved him back into his seat. “Sure thing, Decker. Look. Think about it. You’ll have each other’s backs, and the department will be in contact with you; no one’s planning on leaving you alone out there.”
After the door closed behind the lieutenant, Chloe inhaled to a count of five and exhaled twice as slowly. As she was preparing to speak, Lucifer said softly, “She plans to use you as bait. With two of your former co-stars dead, she expects you’ll make an excellent target.”
“Only if I’m in a film with Bianca Bennett, apparently.” Even she heard the sharpness edging on a sneer.
Without rising to her bait, he said, “I did her a favor, once.”
As if his words were a carelessly-thrown match landing on tinder she hadn’t even been aware of, fierce anger rose in her belly and burned through her veins. “You didn’t need to do me a favor,” she said. “I didn’t ask you to.”
He turned unblinking eyes her way. “I didn’t.”
For some reason, that this was the thing, finally the thing, to make him acknowledge her, look at her, just added a vat of fuel to the already raging fire. “Lucifer, things like the mysterious deaths of police lieutenants, where both the officer’s partner and the murder weapon just vanish from a scene littered with a literal ton of spent casings and freaking bloody feathers that, surprise, don’t turn up as any known avian species, don’t get brushed under the rug. You don’t go from an Internal Affairs nightmare involving the FBI to, ‘Hey, we’re sending you deep undercover because we trust you implicitly.’”
The muscle in his jaw jumped, and through gritted teeth he said, “I pulled no strings to make this happen. I called in no favors. I had nothing whatsoever to do with this summons.” The muscle twitched again. “And I do not lie to you.”
“So, you have nothing to do with the distinct lack of reporters, either?”
His shoulders stiffened. “That isn’t what you referred to.”
Finally, he blinked, his gaze shifting away from her face. “It wasn’t a favor.”
“Right. I’m supposed to believe every reporter in the county and then some just decided to leave this one alone. Totally willing to beat the dead horse, but not enough to harass the jockey?”
“It wasn’t a favor,” he insisted, and even if the flash of emotion was irritation, at least it was something. “You owe me nothing.”
His words were a bucket of cold water dashed over her anger. Very quietly, she said, “We both know that’s not true.”
Before he could protest—and she knew he was going to—Kemp returned, carrying a burden of water bottles. Chloe accepted hers gratefully; Lucifer shook his head. Chloe half-expected him to reach for his flask but he didn’t. After downing half her bottle in a series of long swallows, Chloe said, “Ma’am, I’m not saying no, but I am curious how—and why—you think this is going to work.”
“We don’t have a lot to go on. You know these Hollywood types; they’ll close in around their own like nobody’s business.”
“And you think they’ll … accept me back into the fold? Just like that?”
“Make the story big enough and of course they will; even I know that. Especially if the publicity is positive. The recent murders won’t be mentioned at all—they’ve already been ruled natural causes. It’ll be about the spin. You’ll be the mistreated underdog, of course; the cop maligned by the force and lifted back to stardom by the partner with money and influence who always had her back.” Kemp turned her bright smile on Lucifer, who only frowned and kept his steady gaze fixed straight ahead. “I know you’ve done undercover work, Mr. Morningstar. And this time, you won’t have to play anyone but yourself.” She winked. “No sweater vests need apply.”
Either Kemp was oblivious to the heaviness in the room or she was just determined to beat it back using the sheer force of ruthlessly applied positivity.
“I’m afraid your plan has one significant flaw,” said Lucifer. When Kemp raised her eyebrows, he added, “Detective Decker no longer desires me as her partner.”
“Is this true, Decker?” asked Kemp; at the same time, Chloe said, “I never said that.”
Chloe ignored the lieutenant, turning fully in her chair to face Lucifer. His hands weren’t just folded on his knee, they were clenched around it. Almost every bone in Marcus’s hand had been shattered, Dan had told her. She hadn’t asked how he’d gotten the information; she didn’t want to know. “I never said that,” she repeated. “Lucifer.”
“Um,” said Kemp, clearing her throat. “More water?”
Without waiting for either to respond, Kemp hopped up and headed for the door, flicking the blinds shut on the way, as if she’d intended to do it all along.
As soon as the door closed, Chloe said, “Don’t put words in my mouth. Please.”
Because she knew him so well, she saw the flicker of something faint and trapped in his eyes before he looked away. “I thought it a safe enough assumption. Given … what you know.”
She dragged one hand back through her hair; the pressure of her fingertips wasn’t enough to ease the headache building behind her eyes. “Why,” she asked, “is it so hard for you to just talk to me?”
“Detective?” He blinked several times and shifted in his seat. His hands maintained their white-knuckled grip on his knee.
“You left me alone at a crime scene, Lucifer. You left me alone at the worst crime scene. After taking everything I thought I understood about the universe and just, nope, God, angels, demons, who knows what else, it’s all real, and poof, off you went, and not so much as, I don’t know, a fucking text message.”
“It wasn’t how I intended for you—”
“I know!” she snapped, before her brain could catch up with her mouth and remind her she was snarling at the actual Devil, Lord of Hell. “I know, and I’m not sure if that makes it better or worse.” Unable to stand the jittering in her stomach, Chloe rose and paced from one end of the office to the other.
“When you didn’t contact me, I rather assumed—”
“Right, because that worked so well the last time. Remember? When I called you a hundred thousand times and then showed up at your empty apartment? It was just before you showed up with a bimbo wife and pretended—and pretended—” She squeezed her arms around her middle, but it was like once she’d started heaving the words, she couldn’t stop no matter how much she wanted to. Tears burned in the corners of her eyes and she hated them. “What the hell do you even talk about with Linda?” Chloe stopped, wide-eyed, and turned on him. He wore a vaguely discomfited look and did not meet her eyes. “Does she know?”
After a long moment, Lucifer nodded. Instead of picking up one of Kemp’s picture frames—of a happy-faced golden lab, of course—and dashing it against the nearest surface, Chloe clenched her hands into fists and stared up at the ceiling for a count of ten. In a rare moment of wisdom, Lucifer said nothing.
“Does anyone else? Ella? Dan?”
“Charlotte knew. Not … long.”
“And I’m guessing she wasn’t actually your stepmother? If your Dad really is—”
“I—it’s complicated, Detective. I would have—”
I would have told you. She knew that’s what he was going to say. Just like she knew why he’d stopped himself. I don’t lie to you.
The ceiling was ugly. She focused on the pockmarked fiberboard and the dim outline of old water damage. “I didn’t say I didn’t want you to be my partner.”
“I’m the bloody Devil, Detective.”
“Yeah,” she said, forcing herself to look at him again. “Which apparently you’ve been the whole time.”
His brow furrowed and color rose in his cheeks. “But now you know.”
“And that means, what? You think Linda can accept you but I can’t?” She blinked rapidly but the stupid tears fell anyway. “Lucifer … have I ever given you reason to doubt me like that?”
Because she had actually shot him once—and that was something she was going to have to unpack—it wasn’t an exaggeration to say her words hit him with the force of bullets, only this time it was clear she hadn’t just hit his leg. He finally released his death-grip on his knee, but only to press one hand hard against his chest. The same spot he’d been stabbed. Where she’d taken Marcus’s bullet.
She took a step toward him, then two. “If you … if you don’t want to be my partner, you can say so. I’ll respect your decision. But don’t put words in my mouth. Especially not ones I wouldn’t say.”
She thought his lips formed her name—Chloe, not Detective—but a knock on the door sent her back to her seat, and by the time Kemp entered again, both Chloe and Lucifer sat where they’d been before the lieutenant left. Before Kemp could ask the question, Lucifer said, “Forgive me, Lieutenant. I … misunderstood.”
Kemp lifted one shoulder in a shrug. “Happens to the best of us. Though I will deny having said that, if anyone asks; the lieutenant knows all and sees all.” A gaze gone suddenly shrewd swept from Chloe to Lucifer and back again. “Does this mean you two are back on the same page?”
“At least we’re in the same book, ma’am,” Chloe said. “I’m just … still not sure that book has a chapter that includes this case.”
Kemp waved this away like someone might wave at a vaguely annoying fly. “I admit there are a few holes. Nothing we can’t figure out. First things first, though, we’ve got to set up the op. You’ll be under a lot more scrutiny; you know how the paparazzi love to dig into a high-profile romance.”
Chloe, in the middle of taking another swig from her water bottle, choked and water dribbled down her chin. “A what?”
Kemp gestured toward them. “Romance. Obviously. It’s like catnip. Quickest way to get them watching your every move.”
“I’m not sure that’s the best idea?” Chloe hated the way her voice lifted the words into a question. It all hit a little … too close to home. “I’m sure Lucifer—”
She stopped mid-sentence when she realized Lucifer was smiling. Really smiling; not one of the cold or dangerous monstrosities he saved for discomfort or anger. “Now, Detective,” he said with a hint of the impish humor that had all but vanished in recent months, “please don’t put words into my mouth.”
Chloe snorted a laugh, almost giddy. Kemp looked back and forth between them again, clearly bemused. “A relationship’s what’ll sell it, Decker. No one’s going to believe you’re back on top without verisimilitude, and the department doesn’t have the budget to put you up 90210-style. I thought maybe Mr. Morningstar might—”
“That’s really not necessary, ma’am. I can—maybe my mom—”
“Decker, think about it. You know how the paps work. You think they’ll just ignore your reduced circumstances? The way you’re creeping onto set in a car that screams cop? Wearing sale-rack TJ Maxx—”
With unvarnished amusement, Lucifer said, “Now, that’s uncalled for. No matter how accurate—”
“It’s fine,” Chloe interrupted. “It’s about finding a killer, not what I’m wearing.”
Kemp arched a brow. “Uh-huh. Tell that to Access Hollywood.”
Lucifer shifted in his seat again, but at least he no longer looked like he might accidentally dislocate his own kneecap. “If I may?”
With a jerk of her chin, Kemp ceded the floor. Lucifer tugged on his cuffs—there it was—and continued, “I have ample property at my disposal.”
He said it the way a normal person might say, “I have a dozen eggs in the fridge.”
As if catching her rogue thought, he glanced her way. “I daresay we might use one of the … more extravagant homes. You and the spawn will have your own—”
“Spawn?” asked Kemp.
Chloe made a face. “My daughter. It’s a…”
“Term of endearment,” interjected Lucifer smoothly. I do not lie to you. “The penthouse won’t do; it’s too small. And far too public.”
Chloe rolled her eyes. “People do tend to just … come and go, there.”
Lucifer’s smirk was unmistakable. “Oh, very nice, Detective.”
Her cheeks burned with the heat of a thousand suns. Maybe a thousand and one. “That’s not what I meant.”
His hands twitched into a brief gesture that clearly said your words, not mine. “How much time have we to … arrange things?”
Kemp exhaled. “How much time do you need?”
He regarded her over steepled fingers. “Ideally, a week. Realistically, I know you would prefer three days.”
“Realistically, I would prefer three days ago. Can you manage three days?”
“I daresay if dear old Dad got as far as pomegranates and persimmons in that time, the least I can create is a working film set and a passably prestigious domicile.”
Chloe swallowed the giggle laced liberally with panic that wanted to bubble forth at the words dear old Dad and the reference to the creation of the universe. Or was it just world? Galaxy? What kind of scale was that week on, anyway?
And if Lucifer was the Lightbringer, did that actually make him as old as God’s “Let there be light”? Or did he come after?
Was he born? How did that even work?
“You still with us, Decker?”
Chloe managed some kind of affirmative sound; enough to turn the lieutenant’s eyes away from her.
Kemp brushed her palms together in the satisfied gesture of a job well done before placing them flat on her desk and pushing herself upright. “Now for the ugly part, I guess,” she said. “Know that I am genuinely sorry about this, Decker, and that you’ll be back where you belong in no time. Mr. Morningstar—we owe you a debt; you’re really going above and beyond, here.”
Just how long had Chloe been out of it?
And what, exactly, had her vague noise of agreement signed her up for?
“Dangerous,” Lucifer said. He sounded amused, but Chloe didn’t miss the undercurrent of something far more serious. “To owe me a favor.”
Kemp grinned. “Right. Because of the Devil thing. Do I actually need to sign a contract in blood, or will a handshake do?”
Lucifer extended a hand and Kemp’s grin dimmed somewhat. When she cautiously reached forward across her desk, Lucifer closed his fingers at the last moment, turning his offered handshake into a wagging finger. “Homo, fuge!” Dropping his hand, he added, “And Kit Marlowe was a git.”
“In that case,” said Kemp, “I’m afraid you’re fired. Clean out your desk, Decker. And I look forward to working with you.”
Even though she knew the words were part of the cover, Chloe couldn’t stop the rush of cold that ran the length of her spine, like the feeling of someone stepping on her grave times a thousand. She’d poured so damned much into this job, given it everything and then some, survived hate and injuries and skepticism, and just … leaving felt roughly like someone had reached into her chest and hauled her heart out, still beating.
Still, she rose without trembling and nodded. She didn’t have to force a grim expression.
“Decker, Mr. Morningstar?”
Lucifer, who’d already been reaching for the door, paused.
“Word travels. The fewer people who know the truth, the more likely the story’ll stick.”
Chloe frowned over her shoulder. “Dan’s my ex, ma’am. We share custody.”
“And he’ll be your point-man inside the department. But if you could at least pretend at animosity, it’ll help. I know you work well with Ella, but the same goes for her. I’ve noticed she’s … chatty.”
“She won’t say anything,” Chloe insisted. “Not about this.”
Dryly, Lucifer added, “And her effervescence will prove invaluable to the spreading of … the appropriate rumors.”
Kemp sighed and chuckled ruefully. “You mean she’ll sing it from the rooftops that you two are an item if we ask her to? And people will believe it?”
“Evidence does rather point in that direction,” said Lucifer with a wry twist of his lips that made Chloe regret her very public and work-inappropriate swan dive into near-matrimony all over again. “You ought to have a little of the faith you’re named for.”
There it was.
But Kemp only laughed—a hearty belly-laugh that, if overheard, certainly wasn’t going to add to the verisimilitude she claimed to prize. “I’ve been waiting for that since you walked in, Mr. Morningstar. I was afraid you were going to disappoint me. Still, I hope you won’t hold my mother’s proclivity for virtue names against me.”
“I suppose it might have been worse,” Lucifer agreed. “She could have called you Chastity.” He tipped his head slightly to the side. “Lucifer, please.”
“Let me guess, Mr. Morningstar is your father?”
“Absolutely not,” said Lucifer with an exaggerated shudder. “Would you care to shout curses at us as we leave, or are we free to go?”
“Shouting won’t be necessary.” She waved a hand at one of the banker’s boxes in the corner. “Might want one of those, though.”
Lucifer retrieved one and then opened the door with his usual solicitousness. Even with about a hundred thousand unsaid things hanging between them, at least Chloe no longer felt like he was about to disappear from her life and never return. She swung her arm at her side a little more forcefully than necessary so the back of her hand brushed against the arm of his jacket, proving he was real and not a very elaborate figment of her imagination.
She’d nearly managed to clear her desk of everything personal before Ella came rushing out of the lab, cheeks pink and ponytail lashing like an angry cat’s tail. “No way,” she said. “If you go, I go.”
The sound of people turning to look at the source of the commotion was audible. Chloe offered Ella a strained smile. “It’s—it’s all for the best, Ella. Really.”
“No,” Ella repeated. “No way. The guy and his goons legit try and off you, but you’re the one who gets punished? I call BS, Chlo. Like, major BS.”
Lucifer shifted behind Chloe, and even though the movement was slight, the way he pulled focus was palpable. “Miss Lopez,” he greeted. “No hug?”
Ella narrowed her eyes but opened her arms; Lucifer stepped into her embrace, ducking his head as he returned the hug. His whisper was too low for Chloe to make out the words, but when Ella stepped back again, her eyes shone. “Seriously. I’m pissed. Like. Really pissed.”
Chloe’s lips twitched as she tried to swallow her smile.
“You needn’t be,” said Lucifer magnanimously, with just a hint of a lascivious leer. “Moving on to bigger and better things has never been more … accurate.”
Chloe reached out and swatted his arm. Whatever innuendo he’d been about to spout froze as he stared at her hand. The softness of his slow smile made her heart ache. He captured her fingers in his and lifted them to his lips, never taking his eyes from hers. She blinked her assent, and he pressed a kiss, feather-light, against her knuckles.
“Oh my God,” Ella said, glancing wide-eyed at Chloe. “Oh my God? Omigod. About time.”
“Now, now, Miss Lopez. Please leave my Father out of it.”
Ella grinned, bouncing up and down on her toes. Before she could burst into further raptures, Chloe said, “We’ll talk later, okay?”
“Um, yes, try and stop me! Oh my God.”
Lucifer made a face and lowered Chloe’s hand, only to be promptly pressed into yet another full Ella hug, this time without the suspicious eyes. Lucifer tapped her on the back awkwardly, and Chloe finished putting the last of her effects into her box.
She wondered if she had time to explain things to Dan before Hurricane Ella blew in.
As if Lucifer couldn’t feel the weight of all the stares on them, he carried her pathetic little box like it was some kind of trophy. Of course, as soon as they were outside, Chloe realized she didn’t have a car to put the box into. Before she could reach for her phone to call yet another Uber—that was going to get real old, real quick—Lucifer said, almost tentatively, and with alarming formality, “May I offer you a lift, Detective?”
She slid into the passenger seat and settled her box of belongings on the floor between her feet. She said, “I wasn’t avoiding you. I thought you were avoiding me.”
“Because I left you there,” he replied, voice thick with so much self-loathing she actually felt the pain of it like a fist.
“Lucifer, you were scared.”
“And you were not? I knew, Detective. I knew what you’d seen. I fled.”
She held onto the strap of her seatbelt to give her hands something to do. “Are you glad you did it?”
His hands clenched around the steering wheel. “Does a coward admire his actions?”
“Marcus seemed to admire his.”
The skin of Lucifer’s knuckles whitened. “I understand.”
“No,” Chloe said, “you really don’t.”
“He and I are—were—more similar than you know, Detective.”
“Bullshit,” she snapped.
Lucifer nearly swerved into the car passing them, shooting her a look so startled she might have laughed if the subject had been less serious. She folded her arms over her chest. “I’ve got this movie playing in my mind, over and over. Random snippets. Things you’ve said. Only now, I understand they’re true. You didn’t lie to me. Maybe you omitted. Maybe you left out the evidence. But you didn’t lie. Marcus lied to me. Over and over and over. He shot me, without hesitation. He chose himself, again and again and again.”
Lucifer scoffed. “Please. We both know my selfishness knows no bounds.”
“Do we?” asked Chloe. “Do we really?”
He clenched his jaw.
“Because I know what I saw, Lucifer. I saw bloody feathers everywhere. I saw a circle of blood spray and so many casings it makes me want to throw up when I think about the number of bullets they must have fired at you.”
Gaze fixed on the road ahead, he wove in and out of traffic like he was being chased. The cop in her refused to look at the speedometer. His knuckles remained white and tense. When they finally stopped in front of her apartment complex, she let herself out of the car, lifted her box, and waited for him to speak.
Slowly, he uncurled his fingers. “You think that act selfless? Far from it.”
“Okay,” she said. “I don’t agree with you, but okay.” She took a steadying breath. “But before you run away on me again, I—I need you to understand something.” The box felt impossibly heavy in her arms. She shifted her weight from one foot to the other. “When I was on the roof. I … understood. Believed you. Finally. When I heard the gun—I ran toward you, Lucifer. Not away.” She stared down at her little plant as if the secrets of the universe were written on its leaves. “I have a lot of questions. My brain still stutters when I think too hard about it. I’m still not … okay, whatever that means. But I didn’t run away.” She let herself look at him. For once, she didn’t have any idea what was going on behind his eyes. “You don’t lie to me.” She swallowed hard past the knot in her throat. “I don’t run from you. Okay?”
Voice rough, he said, “Very well.”
“Good,” she said, and turned toward home.
Two days later, Chloe woke to the sound of her doorbell ringing like some kind of manic trick-or-treater wanted candy and had forgotten Halloween was still months away. Still half-asleep, she rolled out of bed, nearly fell going down the stairs, and had the beginnings of a headache by the time she got to the door, pulled it open, and growled, “What?” at the interloper who probably had the wrong address.
“Oh dear.” For a second, the three-piece, dove-grey suit and British accent made her think Lucifer was at her door, but a second glance revealed fair hair, light eyes behind gold-rimmed glasses so delicate she thought they were probably fake, and a bowtie and pocket square so shockingly and virulently pink Chloe couldn’t imagine them being in regular Lucifer rotation. “When he said challenge, I am not sure I was prepared for the enormity of the task.”
He was far too well-dressed for whatever-o’clock it was on a Saturday morning. Now that she’d heard more of it, his accent wasn’t quite the same as Lucifer’s, though she wasn’t sure what made it different. Something in the vowels. It was very Downton Abbey. The family. Not the servants.
Chloe sighed, wishing she were back in bed and snuggled under the warmth of her covers, decidedly not thinking about the total chaos the next few days were going to bring. Instead, she said, “Look, I think you’ve got the wrong apartment.”
“Certainly not.” The young man lifted a perfectly manicured hand and showed her his ridiculously brand-new phone, which was open to a series of text messages including a picture of her. In the picture, her hair was down and her makeup the kind of slightly smudged that came with too much laughing over the course of an evening. Even if she hadn’t recognized Lux, she would have known that Lucifer was the photographer; he always managed to catch her when she wasn’t looking, and he always managed to get her best angles.
Or her worst ones. No in between.
The dress told her it was Ella’s last birthday; the color of her drink said she was at least two or three in because she’d let someone else do the ordering.
The young man dragged his eyes from the top of Chloe’s head to the tips of her bare toes with the grown-out pedicure she’d only gotten because Ella had made her. “It’s something of a relief to have photographic evidence that you can clean up well.”
“Thanks but no thanks, whatever it is,” Chloe said. Sleep was pretty much out of the question now, but at least she could have coffee. Maybe call Trixie. Wrack her brains for some of her old acting exercises and vocal warmups, so she didn’t completely embarrass herself. Or blow her cover the first time she lost her mark or sputtered for lines she’d forgotten. Though they’d spoken several times briefly since the precinct, Lucifer had been maddeningly vague about whatever he was cooking up. “I’m busy.”
“Evidently,” he drawled. “So sorry, Ms. Decker, but I’m not to take no for an answer.”
As if he knew he was about to take a door slammed in his face, he put out a hand and laid his palm flat on the wood. “Forgive my rudeness. I’m Oliver Reynolds-Pennington. Your stylist.”
“No,” she said.
Oliver glanced at his phone, ignoring her completely. As he tapped out a reply to a message with one thumb, he continued, “For the time being, I’ll also be serving in the capacity of personal assistant, though Mr. Morningstar feels you’d eventually be better served by having someone specific to that task.” He glanced up from the phone only long enough to raise an eyebrow. “Come now, Ms. Decker. Soonest begun, soonest done, as they say. Unless, of course, you’ve a wardrobe full of couture gathering dust? No, I thought not.”
“If you say ‘chop-chop’ I’m going to chop you myself.”
Oliver grinned. “That’s the spirit. No need to shower; they’ll take care of all that.”
Too terrified to ask who they were, Chloe reluctantly stepped backward, allowing Oliver to follow her into the house. Glancing around, she took things in as he must be doing, noting last night’s dishes still on the coffee table in front of the television next to a half-drunk bottle of wine, the piles of paper and detritus she was sure had multiplied in the night, and three pairs of shoes discarded across the width of the room like corpses at a crime scene. Before she could say anything, Oliver moved past her briskly to collect the dishes.
“I’ll handle this while you pack and dress, Ms. Decker.”
“It’s Chloe,” she said automatically.
“Of course it is, Ms. Decker.” He glanced at her over the rims of his glasses. “Now, you needn’t bring much; we’ll be building things from the ground up, rather. Shall I get rid of the perishables?”
She blinked. “That’s … I don’t think…”
“Ahh, that’s a yes then. Do you have a case I can fetch for you, or shall you manage on your own?”
His tone, while painfully polite, clearly held an order; she retreated from her own living room and made her way back to her bedroom. Her phone, still plugged in beside the bed, showed several texts from Lucifer, and even a missed phone call. Without reading them, she hit redial.
“Why is there a very prim man in my house telling me to pack?” she demanded. “Why do I need a stylist? Or a personal assistant?”
“Because we’re rebranding you as a film star as quickly as possible?” He lifted the final syllable into a faint question, as if questioning her sanity. Or her listening skills. “Ollie’s really quite lovely, if a bit posh in that old-money sort of way. He’ll have you sorted in no time.”
“Lucifer, I don’t need to be … sorted. I have done this before, you know. Actress mom?”
“Detective, while Penelope is absolutely charming, she was never A-list.”
“And I’m supposed to be?”
“Haven’t you kept up with your old co-stars? Carlos Fontaine recently bought a small island.” It annoyed her that she could picture his expression perfectly—a mix of solicitous and smug, with just a hint of genuine pleasure. “And, you know, Bianca Bennett won an Oscar four years ago. You might’ve bowed out of the game, but your peers certainly did not.”
“Right,” she said, “they’ve moved up in the world. I get it.”
Lucifer sighed. In the moment of silence that followed, she heard faint music playing in the background, and pictured him drinking whiskey instead of coffee—or whiskey and coffee—in a penthouse blissfully free of interlopers. Maybe.
“Sorry,” she said, heat rising in her cheeks. “You’re probably busy—”
“No,” he replied without hesitation. “I am never too busy for you, Detective.”
Her stomach did a little flip that had absolutely nothing to do with being empty and caffeine-deprived. “Not Detective anymore, remember?”
He laughed, low and pleasing. “Indeed.” He paused. “Please don’t traumatize Oliver. He’s probably quite unhappy about being ten minutes behind schedule.”
She snorted. “Yeah, well, if I’d had any idea there was a schedule to keep—”
“You would never have answered your door.”
For a second, she didn’t think about faces or supernatural beings or the way her world had been so casually flipped upside down. She just laughed because Lucifer was right, and because of course he’d sent someone utterly unflappable on a stealth ambush to make sure she brushed her hair and didn’t leave the house wearing last week’s t-shirt with the mustard stain on the hem. “Fine. Okay. I’ll play nice. But, Lucifer, this is all a lot of trouble and expense to—”
“Bring a killer to justice,” he finished mildly. “It is our job, Detective.”
“It’s not your job to spend your own money on … nonsense.”
She heard his smile even though she couldn’t see it. “I promise you I will not spend a cent I do not care to spend.”
“Best hurry. Ollie’ll get quite tetchy if you hit that twenty-minute mark.”
He hung up before she could retort.
Very little in her closet said movie star, she had to admit that much. She pulled a duffel bag from the top of her closet and stared mournfully at the rows of detective-and-single-mom-appropriate jeans and t-shirts and blouses. A couple of her coats were high quality, but it was also summer. She rescued a few of her nicer sundresses, a couple of pairs of jeans, and some t-shirts. A t-shirt was a t-shirt, wasn’t it?
Shaking her head, she turned away from the closet. Most of her lingerie—if she could even call it that—was serviceable over sexy; hand-washing delicates hadn’t been part of her routine in a long, long time. Scowling at herself, she added handfuls of the stuff no one was going to see anyway to her bag. Packing her toiletries was even easier. When she went to grab her hairbrush from the top of the dresser, her gaze snagged on a tangled chain curled in a dish Trixie had made for her in the first grade. Tentatively, almost as if she were approaching the kind of snake that bit first and asked questions later, she picked it up.
A bullet had no right looking so beautiful. A pang of discomfort gripped her when she remembered the way she’d lied to Marcus about it. A joke. Shaking her head, she dropped the brush, pulled the knots from the chain, and hung the necklace back where it belonged. The weight was reassuring against her skin, like a promise she hadn’t known she needed to hear.
“Ms. Decker?” called Oliver. “We really must be going.”
Much like he’d pretended not to hear her protests, Chloe completely ignored the way Oliver winced at her luggage as she returned to the living room. All traces of her earlier sloth had vanished. “Thanks,” she said. “It looks good.”
“Mmm,” he said, reaching for her bag and keeping his hand outstretched until she handed it over. “Now, shall we see if we can’t do the same for you?”
The car Oliver led her to was nearly identical to Lucifer’s Corvette, though in a shade of red somehow both too much and utterly perfect. If she were a—
She laughed. When Oliver arched a brow, she said, “I was just thinking that if I were a movie star, this is the kind of car I’d drive.”
The corners of his mouth turned up in a way that made his pale eyes sparkle. “He chose well, then, it appears.” Fishing the keys from his pocket, he tossed them to her. Instinct sent her hand out to catch them.
She looked dumbly at the keys and then at Oliver. “What?”
“It’s yours, obviously. For the time being. Would you prefer I drive?”
Closing her fingers around the keys, she shook her head.
“I rather thought not. Do get in, then; we’ve time to make up.”
Though Lucifer delighted in making fun of her “geriatric” driving, it wasn’t that Chloe didn’t like speed. Of course she liked the wind in her hair and the sun on her face and the feeling of leaving every damn thing on the road in her dust; she just didn’t … give in to those feelings. Because she was a cop and because safety was important and because speed limits existed for a reason.
All of which was hard to remember the moment she sat behind the wheel and felt the engine purr to life. Though she’d been a passenger in Lucifer’s car any number of times, sitting in the driver’s seat, knowing that the car was practically begging to race, was completely different. The grin on her face probably looked manic, but, for once, she didn’t care. She followed the directions Oliver gave her without griping or second-guessing, and she drove at least ten miles over the speed limit the whole way.
She stopped when Oliver told her to, and a valet stood beside her door before she’d even realized they’d reached their destination. His deferential nod made her vaguely uncomfortable, but she handed over the keys without protest. Oliver was already walking, phone out and fingers flying over the screen. She quickened her pace when he looked at her over his shoulder and cleared his throat.
He held the door open for her before moving to speak with the receptionist. Chloe gaped. The space was that perfect blend of spacious and intimate, decorated in soft, soothing colors and fabrics like silk and velvet. An actual waterfall filled an actual rock-lined pond in one corner; in the other, a wall of books curved around a reading corner. She didn’t see a single magazine, let alone the ancient, dog-eared ones she was used to perusing at her infrequent waxing appointments.
A beautiful woman with dark skin and a halo of natural curls—whose age Chloe could not have begun to guess, detective skills be damned—appeared silently at Chloe’s side. She carried a single champagne glass on a golden tray. “Ms. Decker,” she greeted, in a voice so rich and melodious Chloe was pretty sure she should be the one on screen. “Welcome. I’m Amaya; I’ll be your guide today. Please, with our compliments.”
Because it seemed impossibly rude to refuse, Chloe reached out and accepted the flute. She’d have put money on it being genuine crystal, and a sip told her the champagne was definitely not the kind of bargain barrel bubbly she bought for herself on special occasions. It was … good. It was so good, she found herself grinning again.
“Now,” said Amaya, “would you prefer silk, velvet, or Turkish terry? For your robe?”
“I … have no idea.”
Amaya’s answering smile was bright and just a little impish. “One of each it is. We’ll rotate.”
In the hours that followed, Chloe found herself pampered in every possible way it was possible to be pampered. She was soaked, steamed, scrubbed, and styled until she’d reached a state of bliss and relaxation she hadn’t dreamed was possible. Whenever her glass emptied, someone filled it. The moment she even thought about being hungry, food appeared.
Maybe this was what it was like when Lucifer said, “What do you desire?” and then immediately provided it.
After the nearly endless treatments, Amaya brought Chloe into a room containing several racks of clothing and had her try on outfit after outfit. Chloe was so relaxed, she decided to just enjoy the strange feeling of playing dress-up. She also discovered, somewhat to her chagrin, that not all t-shirts were the same. At all. Because some t-shirts were soft as clouds and fit like they’d been personally designed for exactly her shape. Now and again, Amaya darted in and made adjustments, took measurements, or switched out accessories. Occasionally, she noted things on an ever-present tablet.
When Amaya was finished, she helped Chloe into her robe—the silk one, this time, which Chloe was embarrassed to admit she desperately wanted to keep, impractical as it was—and sent her to rest in her treatment room. “Final touches,” Amaya said.
Final touches involved a makeup artist, yet another hair stylist, and Amaya herself, armed with a dress bag. Once the others finished, Amaya unzipped the bag to reveal one of the outfits Chloe had tried on earlier—an off-the-shoulder silk gown of so deep a red it was almost black. The slight sweetheart neckline was almost demure, whereas the slit up to her thigh in the rippling skirt definitely wasn’t.
“This is a bit…” Chloe gestured hopelessly.
“Perfect,” insisted Amaya. “You’ll see.”
Much like sitting behind the wheel of the Corvette, Chloe couldn’t quite tamp down the hedonistic delight she felt as Amaya zipped her into the dress. The feeling only grew when Chloe stepped into the delicate, jeweled heels she knew were beyond expensive because they had the same red soles Lucifer favored. Amaya smiled as she tapped a fingertip to the necklace still hanging around Chloe’s neck.
“I like this,” she said. “It has a story?”
Chloe felt herself flush. “It does.”
“And is Lucifer Morningstar a character in it?”
“We’ll keep it, then,” Amaya said. She tilted her head, taking Chloe in. “Earrings. That will do.” She produced a pair of dark rubies. “Perfect. Even Oliver will find nothing to complain about.”
Chloe swallowed. “Does he usually?”
Amaya laughed. “He’s harmless. You’re in excellent hands.” She reached out to twitch a few strands of Chloe’s hair into place. “We’ll see you again soon, Ms. Decker.”
Though Chloe very much doubted it, Amaya spoke with too much confidence for Chloe to protest.
And much as she hated to admit it, she really hoped they would.
Instead of the red Corvette, which Oliver assured her would be sent ‘home,’ a black limousine waited for Chloe when she left the spa. She’d completely lost track of time while she was inside; the sky had darkened to a red-limned twilight and the worst of the day’s heat had faded. When the limousine’s driver opened the door for her, she got in before she could think about it too hard. Oliver followed her, sitting on the bench seats opposite her.
“Now,” he said in the voice of someone who was obviously expecting his listener to take notes. “I’ll have a complete itinerary for the next several days sent to you before midnight; do check before you go to bed. I’ve spoken with both your ex-husband and your daughter; Beatrice will return at the end of the week. She’s asked to stay with you next weekend; having conferred with Mr. Morningstar, I believe we can accommodate her, unless you have a reason to deny her request?”
Chloe brushed her palm down the front of her silk skirt, smoothing away non-existent wrinkles. “I … want her to stay, of course. But I’d rather she not be … used. As a prop. I’m not comfortable putting her in the limelight. It’s really important to me that things stay as normal as possible for her.”
Oliver nodded. “That won’t be a problem, Ms. Decker. We’re already taking precautions on that score.”
She folded her hands in her lap to keep from twisting her fingers together anxiously. “I, uh, take it ‘home’ isn’t next on the agenda?”
Oliver chuckled. “The night is young.”
“Yeah,” she agreed. “That’s what I’m afraid of.”
Much like the spa, the limousine pulled up in front of a restaurant so exclusive Chloe had never heard of it before. Foliage sparkling with white twinkle lights created an impenetrable barrier between the street and the restaurant.
“Game face on, please,” Oliver reminded her as they pulled to a stop. “I’ve every reason to believe photographers lie in wait. Do try not to punch any of them. Yet.”
She made a face at him, but as soon as the door opened, she smiled her best paparazzi smile—like you have a happy secret you can hardly contain, sweetheart, said her mother’s voice in the back of her head—and put out a hand to be helped from the vehicle.
Expecting the driver, the smile almost slipped entirely into wide-eyed surprise when Lucifer’s was the hand that steadied her. He was, as always, impeccably dressed in a suit that likely cost more than she made in three months. She thought maybe it was the same one he’d worn to the prom-for-one he’d thrown her. This time, though, his bowtie and pocket square were the same near-black red as her gown.
“You are radiant,” he said, though she was pretty sure he hadn’t looked anywhere but into her eyes. She swallowed, letting herself wonder, just for a moment, if the tightness in her chest and the warmth in her veins was even a fraction like the effect he apparently had on everyone else in the world.
Because he’s the Devil, said an obnoxious little voice in her head.
Not to me.
Whatever he saw in her expression made him smile the smile that brought brightness like stars to his dark eyes and left her feeling like she was the only person in the world.
When it seemed like he might withdraw his hand, she tucked hers into the crook of his arm instead. Lucifer brushed an errant lock of hair over her shoulder and, for a second, froze. His fingertips hovered over her collarbone and the chain of her necklace, warming her skin even though he wasn’t touching her. He made no other comment, and his hand dropped again.
“How was your day?” he asked with infuriating nonchalance.
“Extravagant, and you know it.”
He smirked. “One woman’s extravagance is another Devil’s day ending in y, darling.”
Aware of the cameras no doubt capturing their every look, she limited the extent of her eye roll. “Should I be expecting other surprises?”
He chuckled, and did not answer her.
The foliage and twinkle lights theme of the outside continued indoors. Each table was placed in its own little grotto, almost completely private, shrouded by real plants. Their table sat beneath a bower of dark red roses, fragrant but not distracting. One server unobtrusively pulled back her chair for her, while another poured her a glass of champagne from an already-waiting magnum beaded with condensation. After the first server settled a square of fine linen on her lap, both disappeared, leaving her alone with Lucifer.
“No menus?” she asked.
Lucifer lifted a shoulder. “We’re in Antoine’s hands tonight.”
As if from thin air, Lucifer produced a small, velvet box. Chloe blinked at it, feeling her jaw drop.
He flipped the box open and set it on the table in front of her.
Even though she knew it was part of the role, part of the ruse, her heart still skipped several beats before thundering like an entire racetrack of horses heading into the final sprint. The ring was perfect, of course. Instead of the traditional giant solitaire diamond that would have made her think uncomfortably of Marcus, this ring was a gold filigree band, wide but impossibly delicate, and accented with smaller rubies and diamonds instead of a large center stone. The effect was not unlike the bower of roses and twinkle lights above her head. Tears stung her eyes. When Lucifer shifted in his seat, she realized she’d been staring a little too long.
“I’d have done the usual thing,” he said, “if only to prove once and for all that I am not cheap, but I … I’ve always been rather fond of this piece, and I thought it might suit you.” She wanted to say something, she really did, but words wouldn’t come. Color rose in his cheeks. “Of course, I’m happy to pay an exorbitant fee for a great gaudy rock, if it’s more appropriate to our purpose.”
“Shut up, Lucifer,” she said, and held out her hand.
She wasn’t sure if it was her hand trembling or his, but, like the clothes and the Corvette and the restaurant, the ring was a perfect fit. “Thank you.”
He shook his head, and his eyes dropped to the necklace again and lingered.
Taking a deep breath and raising her fingertips to rest on the bullet, she said, “He was jealous. I—”
“Please,” he said. “I do understand. You needn’t—”
“I didn’t want to take it off. And I shouldn’t have. That’s all. I … it means a lot to me. I … Lucifer, I never thought it was a joke.”
“It bloody well wasn’t,” he said with humor just this side of forced. “It hurt.”
Both times, he didn’t have to say. She raised her champagne and sipped, buying herself a moment of time. When she set the flute down again, she asked, “Why?”
He grimaced, and the look he shot his champagne clearly said he wished it were something stronger. “It’s … complicated. And to be perfectly honest, I am still not … entirely sure.”
“But you’re partly sure? You have an idea? I mean, I—Lucifer, now that I’m not turning myself into knots trying to rationalize things that couldn’t be explained, I’ve … I’ve seen you do impossible things. And Jimmy Barnes shot you. Marcus shot you; I saw your shirt. But so did I. You bled when that girl stabbed you. And—and the feathers.”
She could practically see him withdrawing, closing inward. She reached out and settled her fingers against the back of his hand. He looked up at her, expression almost startled, as though he hadn’t expected the touch. Or the gentleness.
“I understand being scared, Lucifer, I do. I’m—I’m scared all the time. That something’ll happen to Trixie. That something’ll happen to me, or Dan, or you.” He didn’t pull his hand away, so she dared a little further and actually curled her fingers around his index finger. “You think I’m scared of you, but I’m not.”
“Then you’re foolish,” he said grimly. “And we both know that isn’t true.”
“Maybe. I don’t know. I do know I am in way over my head, and I’m trying to make sense of all this shit I’ve never had to think about before. It’s a lot. And it’s going to keep being a lot as long as you keep trying to protect me from … from whatever truth it is you think I can’t handle.”
His lips parted like he meant to speak, but before he could, the pair of servers returned bearing the first course of the meal. Chloe released his hand and sat back in her seat, worrying at the edges of the linen in her lap. Instead of the relief she expected at the interruption, the look in Lucifer’s eyes was pained. Still, he smiled for the waiters, thanking them and sending his compliments to Antoine.
“Did you do him a favor?”
“No,” replied Lucifer. “He’s just exceptionally talented.” A faint, sad smile pulled at his lips. “I do appreciate talent without … needing to have a hand in it.”
She nodded. “Should we—maybe we should talk later. About the other stuff. Where we won’t be constantly interrupted.”
Lucifer inclined his head. “About later. I am sorry I didn’t confer with you about our living arrangements. I thought, perhaps—”
With some trepidation, she interrupted him. “Is it … is it the house in the hills? With the—oh, oh I hadn’t even thought of that. Why would someone pretend to be—and gouge his own eyes out—”
“To say nothing of goading—well, best not discuss that.”
Chloe would have pushed him—they had more than enough secrets and unspoken conversations between them—but whatever Lucifer didn’t want to talk about had made him close up as tight as storm shutters with a Category 5 incoming.
He said, distantly, “In any case, no. That building is gone.”
Something in his tone indicated that gone was a lot more final than sold at a profit to an interested party, and she didn’t want to ask. She closed her eyes and took a bite of her food while he gathered his thoughts, and nearly swooned when the perfect flavors of the amuse bouche burst on her tongue. Embarrassingly, she did groan. A little.
When she opened her eyes again, she found Lucifer smiling fondly at her, windows thrown wide. He said, “I never tire of seeing your enjoyment. It’s new every time.”
The words struck her as impossibly intimate, and she ducked her head. When she regained her equilibrium, Lucifer was eating his own food and, evidently, enjoying it. “What did you decide?” she asked. When he looked startled, she added, “About the living arrangements.”
“The stereotype, I’m afraid. 90210 awaits.”
“Because you … of course you have a Beverly Hills estate just … sitting there.”
His expression reminded her of a cat getting unexpectedly wet. “It’s all rather gauche and ostentatious if you must know. Not my first choice. Or even in my top ten. But it’s secure.” He sighed. “The problem with beachfront, you know, is that even if the beach is relatively private, it’s a defensive nightmare.” He drank the rest of his champagne and refilled his flute without waiting for the designated waiter to return. As he topped up her glass, he added, “I did think you might prefer the water.”
She was a California girl, born and bred; the beach was in her blood. But, like so many things right now, the beach reminded her of Marcus, of the dates she’d felt somehow both proud and ashamed of, which reminded her of wanting, so desperately, for Lucifer to be jealous. Wanting him to act, speak, do something except fret over his own stupid, metaphorical problems while ignoring the her-shaped problem standing right in front of him.
“I’ve made you unhappy,” he said. “We can still change it.”
She blinked at him and, for the space of a heartbeat or two, wondered if he had somehow read her mind. Then, of course, she realized he was only talking about the house. “No,” she said. “I was thinking about something else. Why not Beverly Hills? God, it’s not like I’ll have the opportunity again.”
A muscle twitched in Lucifer’s cheek, just enough for her to rewind what she’d just said and regret it. “That’s … sorry. That’s going to, um, take some getting used to.”
“It was only ever just a word, you know? For me, it wasn’t even connected to a concept. Like … I don’t know, saying shit.”
“In this case, I suppose your example is particularly apt.” He twisted one of his cufflinks in a slow circle; he didn’t seem aware he was doing it. “But this is hardly the time or place to open that particular can of worms.” He looked down at his hand as if he didn’t recognize it and immediately pulled his fingers away. “Especially as I am, if possible, even less his favorite son at the moment.”
“Ahh,” he declared. “Do try the langoustine, darling; it’s one of Antoine’s signature dishes.”
She sent a mock-glower over the table, and the brittleness of his return smile told her that, whatever it was, he wasn’t ready to talk about it.
And the langoustine really was delicious.
Chloe enjoyed the meal; of course, she did. Each bite was perfect, the atmosphere was luxurious, the service beyond reproach.
And yet, when she rose from the table at the end of it, she found herself wishing it had been a burger and fries (no ketchup), a bottle of wine behind a locked door (no interruptions), and conversation running deeper than the safe topics they had clung to for fear of being overheard. Or for fear of other things. The whole evening had been … textbook perfect. Lucifer played the role of attentive lover admirably; he wore it as effortlessly as he wore his suit, his ring, his beautiful human face.
And she itched. This was Lucifer standing apart and aloof, wearing a mask and not even realizing it. She swallowed against the feeling of drowning, of feeling like everything she’d seen and thought and experienced had been a memory or a dream. She toyed with her necklace, running her thumb and forefinger over the bullet pendant like it was a worry stone. The gems in her ring glittered in the dim light, so beautiful her breath caught all over again.
Lucifer offered his arm, and she dropped her necklace to take it. He curved his body toward her as they walked toward the exit as if waiting for her to speak. She didn’t know what to say.
Everything had been perfect. And an elaborate lie.
“Almost over,” he said, and she smiled because she was afraid she was emoting something completely different.
Antoine himself came to bid them farewell; as Lucifer had done, he raised Chloe’s hand to his lips, kissed it, and entreated her to return. She smiled—smiled and smiled and smiled—and thanked him. As the limo pulled to the curb, Chloe heard the distinctive snick of cameras taking pictures. Lucifer paused, angling his head toward her.
Chloe swallowed. Hard.
Because if they’d just gotten engaged, the paparazzi were looking for the picture to prove it. In the back of her head, she imagined Ella crowing, Pics or it didn’t happen, Decker!
She tightened her hand on his arm, tipping her chin to look up at him.
Chloe rose on her tiptoes and brought her other hand to cup the sharp line of Lucifer’s jaw, and then down to rest against the side of his neck, where his pulse jumped beneath her fingers. Hesitating only a moment, Chloe brought her lips to his. Snick snick snick, went the cameras. Lucifer’s lips parted, he made a sound somewhere between pain and pleasure deep in his throat, and—
—and a woman slid next to him, settling a fine-boned hand with blood-red-tipped nails on the arm that wasn’t occupied with Chloe’s. He blinked first at Chloe, like someone drunk, and then scowled at the interruption.
“Say it isn’t so, Lucifer,” the woman purred. “I am hearing oddest things. A total upheaval. What has Los Angeles come to if its most notorious playboy is considering settling down?”
“Cassandra,” he said. “What a surprise.”
To Chloe, it did not sound like a surprise at all.
“Give me a quote?” She fluttered her ridiculously fake lashes at him. “Pretty please?”
Lucifer removed his arm from her grip and stepped backward, bringing Chloe with him. “You seem quite well-informed already, darling. There hardly seems a point.”
She pouted, pushing out her lacquered bottom lip like a child denied a treat. “After all the nice press I’ve given you over the years? The crowds I’ve sent to Lux? Not even a nibble? I can’t help noticing your Ms. Decker’s wearing jewelry she wasn’t wearing earlier. It’s not the traditional choice but—”
“But that’s quite enough.” His words held just enough of a warning that Cassandra huffed a disgruntled sigh.
“Fine,” she said. “I’ll get to the bottom of this, Lucifer.” She leaned into Lucifer’s space. “But you know that.”
Chloe tried to remember if this woman was one of the ones who’d paraded through the precinct the day they interviewed Lucifer’s past lovers. She didn’t think so, but she couldn’t be sure; there’d been so many blondes wearing too much makeup and showing too much cleavage. Chloe didn’t exert any pressure, didn’t so much as allow her fingers to twitch against his arm, but he turned away from Cassandra and escorted Chloe the rest of the way to the car. Once the driver had closed the door behind them, he immediately reached for the crystal decanter and a pair of tumblers.
Chloe shook her head when he offered a finger of the whiskey and didn’t reply to the brow so obviously arched in a question. He drank one glass down in a gulp before sitting back and running his finger along the rim of the other.
“You’re not upset about Cassandra, are you?” he asked after an eternally long silence that was probably only about a minute. “That was all a little show. She does deal in the most delicious gossip.”
“She owed you a favor.”
He saluted her with the glass before drinking from it.
Chloe didn’t want to say it, because she knew damned well how it sounded, but her mouth opened and, “Did this one involve honey? Or maybe a car battery?” fell out of it.
Instead of rising to the bait, he only smiled a little more like a cat in the cream and said, “I introduced her to her wife. Neither of whom I slept with, if you must know.”
Chloe turned away, gazing out through the tinted windows at the blurred colors of street lamps and car headlights, and here and there a flash of neon. As they passed a side street, she saw the familiar blue and red lights of a police car, and her stomach ached in a way that had nothing to do with the wonderful meal. Her lips still tingled from the kiss. She wished she hadn’t done it. She wished they hadn’t been interrupted. She wished for something real, maybe; something that wasn’t part of the glamorous fairytale in which she was currently starring.
Burgers and fries, no ketchup.
Her deep inhale caught at the apex and stung the back of her throat. “I know I don’t have a right to—” She twisted the fabric of her dress between her fingers to give them something to do. “I would appreciate—”
“I am sorry, Detective,” he said softly. “I know none of this is what you’d choose.”
“That’s not what I—damn it. I’m not comfortable with you … doing … stuff.”
“Stuff?” She heard him shift in his seat. “Ahh. You mean sex.”
She ducked her head, wishing she’d accepted the earlier offer of a drink. “While we’re … together. Pretend together. Whatever. ‘Notorious Playboy Lucifer Morningstar Steps Out on Fiancee’ is … is really not how I want to make headlines.”
When he spoke, his voice had dropped a dozen degrees, and his accent was so clipped she shivered even though the interior of the limo was not cold. “And you think me incapable of respecting those wishes?”
“That’s not what I—”
“Or perhaps it’s only that you think me ignorant of them?”
She allowed herself a very brief look at him; his cheeks had gone pink, and his brow was furrowed in something more like disappointment or frustration than anger. She turned back to the window, though it didn’t help erase the heaviness in the air around them that was practically a living creature in its own right.
“I’m already a laughingstock,” Chloe said. “A failed marriage, a … a ridiculous engagement, and now a lie that … that somehow feels worse than all the rest of it combined.”
“Because I’m the Devil.” His words were acid, burning between them.
“No!” She brushed away the wrinkles her earlier anxiety had left behind in the silk of her skirt. “Because I don’t want to add to the goddamned punchline, and I don’t want to ask you to be something you’re not, and I hate lying like this, and it’s all … it’s all just a fucking mess, Lucifer.”
His released breath was almost a sigh; it felt like the first crack in spring-thawed ice. “I know.”
Still looking out the window so she wouldn’t have to look at him—she wasn’t ready to look at him, not with everything all twisted up and strange and her lips betraying her with longing for another kiss—she asked, “I know you don’t do it but can you tell? When people are lying?”
Fabric rustled against fabric; she imagined him crossing his legs or reaching out for the bottle of whiskey again. “Not always. Often. Does come with the territory, rather.”
“Then…” She shook her head. “Never mind.”
“I suppose you’re wondering what it’s all about. This Adversary business? Father of Lies? Prince of Darkness? The Great Deceiver?” Bitterness tinged every syllable. The sound of whiskey splashing into a glass followed. “I should think it’s all fairly obvious. To discredit someone who disagrees with you, slander them. Spread your lies first and best. Is that not what Daniel did to you when he covered his sins at Palmetto Street and let you take the fall?” After a short bark of laughter, he added, “‘Take the fall.’ Poetic, that.”
She turned away from the window, and only then realized some of the blur came from the tears in her eyes. “Is that what you did? Take the fall?”
His glass was still full; he stared into the amber depths with an unblinking gaze. “Once upon a time,” he said, “there was a garden. And in that garden was a tree. On that tree grew a fruit. Even the atheists know this part. ’The tree,’ my Father said, ‘is the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The fruit,’ He said, ‘is forbidden.’ And the precious little humans smiled and nodded and picnicked and played.”
“U-until you tempted Eve to … eat the fruit?” Chloe stumbled over the words. “At least, that’s … that’s what Wikipedia says.”
“And Wikipedia is never wrong,” Lucifer scoffed. “That’s the story, isn’t it, Detective? And Malcolm was a good man and a good cop and how dare you taint that with your suppositions?”
She shifted closer, until her knees almost brushed his. If both his hands hadn’t been closed around his tumbler, she might have taken one of them.
“I was tempted to eat the fruit.” She couldn’t be sure if his eyes actually flashed red or if she only imagined it. “We angels were not made for such things. We were Purpose given direction and wings. Messengers, servants, children; the line was very blurry. In the beginning.”
“Lucifer, you don’t have to—”
“My Father said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. And He saw the light, and it was good. It was good, you understand. But what is good? He’d built himself a little paradox, hadn’t He? What is good? What is evil? Without one, the other has no meaning, no substance; it’s a cliche for a reason. If light is good, what is dark? Without knowledge, what is either?”
Chloe pressed her fingertips to the bullet necklace, hard enough to make the bones of her chest ache.
“In the Beginning, as you’re all so fond of saying, in the Beginning, the darkness wasn’t mine. It was never mine. It was His. Only, that wasn’t what he wanted Adam and Eve to see, no. Lilith saw a little and fled, but she couldn’t play the part He needed played. In spite of everything, she was too human, and Father needed something divine. Larger than the lives in the garden. Something they couldn’t quite understand. Something he could both frighten them with and save them from.”
“But Lucifer means … Light Bringer. Not—nothing to do with darkness.”
“Wikipedia does cover all the bases, doesn’t it?” Lucifer grimaced. “And the light was good,” he repeated. “Until it wasn’t. The fruit did as promised. I certainly gained the knowledge of good and evil. Just as dear old Dad intended. Of course, by then it was all too late, wasn’t it?”
“And you,” she said quietly, “decided you would never lie.”
“Not that I had done so before that. Something of a point of pride.”
“The kind that, um, goeth before a fall?”
Lucifer’s laugh held no mirth; it was turned inward, a knife as sharp as one of Maze’s. “He needn’t lie, Detective. What He says, is. He invents truth, and the universe orders itself around those inventions.”
His knuckles whitened. With a terrible sound like bones breaking, the glass shattered in his hands, bursting, star-like, into a hundred fragments that glittered in the limousine’s low light. Whiskey and blood spilled onto the floor. “Bloody hell.”
Spurred by the sight of blood, Chloe hunted for something to use as a bandage, but Lucifer only shook his hands as if they irritated him. A moment later, he withdrew a handkerchief from his pocket and dabbed at his wounded fingers. “Don’t,” she said sharply. “You’ll make it worse. There’s probably glass still caught in your hand.”
She caught his wrist and dragged his hand nearer, heedless of the blood dripping onto her skirt; it disappeared into the dark red instantly. His left hand had taken the worst of the damage. She turned it carefully, watching for light glinting off any glass shards still caught in his palm. Panic made her throat tight, snarling the words in her throat. “Dammit, Lucifer, I can hardly see.”
On his spoken command, the lights rose. Chloe squinted at the sudden difference. Her fingers slipped in the blood. She plucked out a shard caught in the meaty part of his palm, near his thumb. She’d need a pair of tweezers for the rest.
Glowering up at him, she reached for the handkerchief and wrapped it around the gashes in his palm. “That was stupid!”
“Yes,” Lucifer said. “That’s been true from the beginning, too.”
The house was ridiculous.
Of course, the house was ridiculous. If someone had written out a list of every single Hollywood mansion cliche, this house was the living embodiment of that list. To the letter. Only without gaudiness. She was pretty sure Lucifer couldn’t do gaudy. But it was vast, and the mortgage—did Lucifer have mortgages? Of course, he didn’t have mortgages—on one room was probably more than she’d ever spend on a whole house in her entire life. Hell, it might’ve been more than she’d spend on the cumulated mortgages of every home she’d ever and would ever live in.
Chloe didn’t spare a thought for the sweeping marble staircases branching off the foyer or the beautifully decorated, showroom-perfect rooms she followed Lucifer through. Even though he’d put his injured hand in his pocket, she knew it was still bleeding. Damp black had a different sheen than dry black, even if it didn’t show the color of blood.
He wasn’t running—Lucifer never ran, she’d noticed—but he was walking fast enough that the difference was purely academic. Also, his dress-shoes didn’t skid on the marble like hers did, and after the third time she nearly toppled, she said, “Lucifer, stop, please.”
For a heartbeat, she thought he wouldn’t.
But he stopped. She bent to release her feet from the beautiful, impractical torture devices she’d strapped them into. Rising, heels dangling from her hand, she said, “Did you invent these?”
He didn’t fully turn to face her, but he did glance over his shoulder. His expression was some strange mix of pained and confused, but when she jiggled her handful of shoes at him, he smiled faintly. “You’ve Christian to thank.”
She rolled her eyes. “Well, they’re a great form of torture.”
“And most people do pay an exorbitant sum to subject themselves to it, so, yes,” he agreed. “Not mine, Detective, but they should be.”
“I want to look at your hand. Preferably with a first aid kit handy.”
He sighed, turning away again. “It’s unnecessary. Especially now you’ve had your … blinders about divinity removed, you’ve noticed that injury and I tend to have relationships of short duration? It need not worry you.”
“Yeah, and you’ve probably noticed that worry and I tend to have relationships of longer and more complicated duration.”
The laugh was short and startled, but it was definitely a laugh.
“Just let me look at your hand, Lucifer. Otherwise, I won’t sleep, and that terrifying British dictator will show up first thing in the morning, I’ll have to kill him, and the LAPD will get involved for a completely different reason.”
She knew she’d won when Lucifer finally turned to face her. It took some effort not to immediately drop her gaze to the pocket that hid his hand. He looked a little pale, a little pinched around the eyes, and she hadn’t been lying about the worry. Now that they were away from the dim, flattering lighting of the restaurant and the even dimmer lighting of the limousine, she could see the strain clinging to him, limpet-like. It wasn’t as bad as it had been when he’d come to her with red-rimmed eyes, raving about Cain and angels and—
She shook her head. How many apologies did she owe him? How many times had she rolled her eyes and dismissed him when what he needed was a friend?
But she hadn’t known. Not really. And he hadn’t told her. Not really.
In a bathroom roughly the size of her entire apartment, Lucifer found a first aid kit in a drawer and handed it to her wordlessly. She accepted it with a brusque nod and gestured vaguely at the sink. The first aid kit was well-stocked and had obviously never been used. Chloe twisted her hair back from her face, knotting it at the nape of her neck. She unwrapped a sterilized pair of tweezers.
Lucifer held his hand out to her, and she peered at it. The cut was alarmingly deep and still oozing blood. She brought her face closer. “Sorry,” she said. “This might hurt.”
She guided his hand to the running water so she could clear her field of vision and, using the tip of the tweezers, explored the wound. Lucifer didn’t so much as flinch as she found a deeply embedded shard and tugged it free; it made a hollow little clink as she dropped it into the sink’s basin. After removing a couple more tiny pieces of crystal, Chloe was finally satisfied she’d gotten it all.
Through it all, Lucifer said nothing. She was conscious of his breath against her skin and the warmth he radiated—had he always been so warm?—and the way the overhead light made the ring on her finger glitter like it was made of tiny, brilliant, captured stars. When her hair began to untwist from its knot, Lucifer caught the fall of it and brushed it back over her shoulder before it could obstruct her vision. His fingers didn’t linger, but the warmth of them remained like a tattoo.
The wound was, at last, no longer bleeding. Still, she applied a series of butterfly bandages and insisted on wrapping the whole thing in gauze. She held onto his hand a little longer than was strictly necessary, and Lucifer didn’t pull away.
Looking at their joined hands, she said, very softly, “You said it’s complicated. You said you’re not entirely sure.”
He swallowed hard enough she could hear it, and she braced for the shutdown, the pull-away.
“Some time ago,” he said, softer even than she had spoken, “before I—before—” His fingers twitched in hers; she was careful not to hold too tight. “You felt you could be vulnerable. Around me.”
“I remember. And you said … you said I made you vulnerable.”
“Mmm. As it happens … I was speaking rather literally.”
The Chloe she’d been a month ago would’ve rolled her eyes. Would’ve scoffed. Would’ve dismissed Lucifer’s words the way she’d so instantly dismissed so many of his outlandish declarations—metaphors, nonsense, illness. How many times had he used the word immortal? Or invulnerable? “Shoot me!” he’d taunted. The bullet hanging around her neck. Not just a graze after all. The knife in his shoulder. The circle of blood spray in the loft, smeared by footsteps.
“Detective?” His note of panic brought her back to herself. Her fingers were cold, even though Lucifer’s hands were so warm she’d have thought him feverish if she hadn’t known better. His dark eyes watched her intently.
Gone for a while again, then.
“But.” Words swam just out of reach, heavy and cumbersome. “Why stay?” She bit her lip. Those words weren’t the right ones; they didn’t say what she meant. “You could—you do—get hurt.”
From worry, his expression shifted minutely toward something she couldn’t quite name. Something softer. Something touched with longing.
“I find it worth the risk,” he finally said.
She shook her head, glancing down at their joined hands. The gauze. The wounds beneath. “But you heal quickly.”
“Quicker when I’m not nearby?”
His hesitation before speaking was answer enough, but Chloe still waited for the word. Needed to hear the word. “…Yes.”
“Okay,” she said. “Okay.”
“Okay, I need to process that a bit. That’s all.” She shrugged and, before she could say more, was overtaken by a yawn so immense it made her jaw crack. “And maybe sleep. Maybe sleep would be good.”
With puzzlement still etched on his face, he finally removed his hands from her grip. “Very well. I suppose the tour can wait.”
Lucifer walked her to the bottom of the sweeping staircase and gestured with his unwounded hand. “Your suite’s to the left. You’ll find the door open.”
She’d been a child when Disney’s Beauty and the Beast came out. Her dad had taken her to see it a ridiculous number of times in the theater while her mom had been filming somewhere. Chloe had never been scared of the Beast, not even in the beginning. The wolves were scarier. Gaston was. The Beast had been just a kid.
“Daddy, why did he get in trouble?” She’d asked around a mouthful of vanilla ice cream and rainbow sprinkles after the first viewing. “Kids aren’t supposed to talk to strangers. He was only eleven. I’d get in trouble if I let the lady in the house.”
“You sure would.”
“But the prince got in trouble for not letting her in.”
Her dad had sighed. She remembered that. And then he’d said, “You know, Monkey, you’ve got a good point. It’s a story—and sometimes things make sense in stories that don’t make sense in real life. The prince got in trouble because he judged the enchantress by her appearance.”
Chloe had eaten half her sundae before replying, “It still wasn’t fair.”
Now, standing at the bottom of a sweeping staircase that certainly looked like something borrowed straight from a French castle, Chloe said, “Don’t worry, I’ll stay out of the West Wing.”
Lucifer’s brow furrowed. “You can watch whatever you like, Detective.”
“That’s not what I—” His confused expression made her smile. She paused, shoes dangling limply from her hand; the hem of her beautiful, bloodstained dress puddling around her bare feet. She craned her neck to look up at him; her lack of footwear made their height difference more apparent than usual. “Goodnight, Lucifer.”
Before she could second-guess herself, she reached out, grabbed his uninjured hand, and squeezed it. Her ring glinted in the light of the ridiculous crystal chandelier above their heads. For an instant, his fingers echoed her tightening grip, and then she released him, lifted her skirt with one hand so she didn’t trip herself going up the stairs, and headed toward her room.
Lucifer didn’t follow, but she felt the weight of his gaze on her back until she reached the upper floor and turned toward her room.
Sunday morning came without the alarm Chloe was certain she’d set the night before. When she reached blindly for her phone on the nightstand, her hand met only soft sheets and fluffy duvet. She blinked awake, remembered she was definitely not in her own house, and shimmied across the ridiculously large bed until she could lay hands on her cell.
If any sleepiness remained, it vanished the second she peered at the screen and saw it was already 10:30 in the morning—which meant she’d slept past the 7 a.m. alarm, the 7:15 alarm, and the backup 8 a.m. alarm. The panic ebbed when she realized a piece of paper had been tucked on the bedside table just beneath her phone that read Forgive the intrusion, Detective. I’ve had Ollie rearrange the schedule. No need for an early morning after such a late night. Please, make yourself at home.
In the light of day, she took in the room around her. Room. Right. Practically apartment. She’d seen the sitting room the night before as she passed through it, and she’d become at least passingly acquainted with the bathroom as large as her bedroom at home. Someone had left new pajamas on the end of her bed, so she hadn’t needed to go looking for anything.
Now, behind another door, she found a walk-in closet leading to a dressing room. Her sad little sundresses hung next to a veritable smorgasbord of new clothing. She recognized many of the outfits Amaya had made her try on the day before, but she knew she hadn’t tried on everything now hanging in the closet in dedicated sections, like her own personalized department store. She ran her fingers along the fabrics—silk and linen and cotton so soft it felt like some altogether different fabric. In the dressing room, the walls not hung with mirrors contained the accessories, jewelry, and shoes departments.
Draped over a freestanding mirror was one of the robes she’d so loved at the spa. Because Chloe couldn’t deal with her new wardrobe before caffeine, she shrugged into the pale pink silk, tightened the belt around her waist, and tucked her feet into ballet-style slippers.
The vast bedroom opened onto a balcony overlooking a swimming pool large enough for Olympians to compete in. Applying the word yard had never seemed so inadequate. An entire outdoor room—also larger than some apartments she’d lived in—had been constructed next to the pool, complete with fireplace, bar, and seating that looked so comfortable she feared she’d never get up again if she made the mistake of sitting down. A trio of pools steamed under perfectly kept greenery; hot tubs, she thought. On the other side of the pool, a poolhouse sprawled, looking small only in comparison to the mansion it serviced. The glass patio doors were flung wide; as if called by her gaze, Lucifer came into the garden wearing only silk pajama pants and carrying a small mug on a saucer.
Before she could think better of it, she called his name. He shaded his eyes, looking toward her balcony. “Detective! Fancy a coffee?”
“If you leave out the whiskey.”
Thankfully, one end of her balcony led to a staircase gently curving into the garden; she was pretty sure she wouldn’t have been able to navigate her way through the house without getting hopelessly lost. By the time she reached the poolhouse, Lucifer had shrugged into a robe of his own—not tied, she noted, and very much leaving nothing about the physique beneath to her imagination—and stood waiting for her outside, almond-milk latte in hand. “Omelette?” he asked.
“You don’t have to—”
“I know.” His lips thinned in a brief line of consternation. “After all this time, I hope you realize I never offer what I’m unwilling to provide.”
“Willing isn’t the same as wanting.”
One eyebrow lifted. “Isn’t it?”
“Fine. Then I would love some breakfast. Toast is fine.”
“But is toast what you desire?”
She knew his mojo thing didn’t work on her, but even without it, the way his voice caressed the word desire was enough to spark a feeling in her stomach that had nothing whatsoever to do with physical hunger. She took a sip of her perfect coffee, trying to banish it. “It’s f—”
“Fine is an insult.” Though his tone wasn’t harsh, the sharpness in the words surprised her. “It’s death by a thousand cuts. A thousand shallow little mediocrities.”
She blinked and made a face. “Lucifer, it’s just toast.”
“No,” he said. “It is not.”
Instead of following her instinct to roll her eyes and brush away his seriousness, she said, “I can see I’ve upset you. Can you explain why? Please?”
He took half a step backward, and the curve of his shoulders turned suddenly defensive, like a child fearing a blow from someone taller or bigger than him. He was the Devil. The actual, literal Devil, and all she wanted was to reach out, wrap her arms around his waist, and protect him with all she had. Instead, she only held her ground and added, “You don’t have to if you don’t want to.”
“But you desire it?”
Something in the cadence of his voice made her pause before answering. “Not if you don’t desire to tell me. What I want doesn’t outweigh or overrule what you want, Lucifer.”
“And if I want to please you?”
She ran a hand through her loose hair and pushed it over her shoulder, shaking her head. “You once told me I was selfless to—I believe your exact words were—a nauseating degree.”
Lucifer nodded, wariness still clinging to him like the silk of his robe.
“You said it like it was a good thing.” Chloe drank deeply from her coffee cup. The latte had gone a little cold, but it still tasted like heaven. “But that’s not what the therapist told me.”
Lucifer’s brow furrowed. “Doctor Linda?”
She smiled briefly. “Dr. Montrose. She was the marriage counselor Dan and I went to see before we separated. Turns out nauseating selflessness is just as counterproductive as willful self-centeredness when it comes right down to it.” She held up a hand to stall the protest she could already see forming on Lucifer’s lips. “I thought that by making Dan happy, by doing everything in my power to make his life easier, I’d be happier, too.”
“Daniel,” Lucifer scoffed. “Pathetic. Him, Detective. Not you.”
“It’s not really about Dan. Or me. You—you don’t have to be useful for me to appreciate you.”
His fingers twitched at his sides; had he been wearing one of his ubiquitous dress shirts, she knew he’d be worrying his cufflinks.
The sun was starting to hit Chloe’s back, and though the morning was still pleasant beneath the shade of the trees and plants of the garden, she guessed she’d be a mess of sweat and overheating in about ten minutes if they didn’t move indoors. She touched the back of Lucifer’s hand lightly as she passed him, and then waited just outside the open doors. “May I?” she asked.
Lucifer blinked. “Of course,” he said. “You need not ask.”
She smiled. “I do, actually.”
Inside, she sat at the kitchen island and finished the rest of her coffee. Lucifer strode to the espresso machine and began making another. With his back turned to her, he said, “My Father took such care when he made this world. His devotion to its perfection was … singular. And humanity takes so much of it for granted.” He stopped speaking long enough to heat the milk and pull the shots of espresso. Every action was precise, no movement wasted or extraneous. When he was finished, he placed a cup of coffee before her; the foam art formed the shape of a delicate, winged bird. She thought it was a bird, anyway. “I might have been envious. Even spiteful. I think I was, in the beginning. If I’d never seen it for myself—if I’d only ever seen those who came laden with their guilt and sin and ugliness—perhaps I’d have stayed that way.” He smiled, strange and soft and … ancient. “Instead, I find so much to enjoy.”
Chloe waited. Lucifer nodded at the coffee, and she took a drink, even though it seemed a shame to destroy the image he’d created. “I enjoy making coffee for you, Detective. The act is not selfless. It brings me pleasure seeing the pleasure I’m able to bring you.” His lips twisted into something brief and self-deprecating. “‘Fine’ is sloshing swill into a cup and smacking it down on the table.”
“Fine is a piece of toast when what I want is a ham and mushroom omelette absolutely oozing with cheese?”
Lucifer’s expression brightened, his lips tilting into the kind of smile she usually associated with Trixie getting a second helping of chocolate cake. “Very well,” he said, and crossed to the refrigerator.
“Do you need to eat?” she asked.
Lucifer, in the middle of cracking eggs, glanced over his shoulder. “I enjoy it, and it provides a kind of energy. I’d not die without it.”
“I’d never have guessed, the way you go through Cool Ranch Puffs.”
“The very finest of this planet’s delicacies.”
Leaning on the counter, she propped her chin on her hands. “And alcohol? Drugs? Do they really not affect you?”
“Dearie me, we are curious this morning.” She watched the curve of his back and the ease of motion as he whisked the eggs and saw no tension, no sign that he was unhappy with her line of questioning. “They do, of course; it’s not unlike my relationship with injury.” He held up the hand that had been wounded the night before to show smooth, unblemished skin. “Of short duration, unless the intake is prodigious and sustained.”
“That explains a lot.”
“Doesn’t it just?”
“And what about—”
Chloe was prevented finishing her question by a voice outside calling, “Hel-looo! Anybody home?” A moment later, Ella popped into view. Her t-shirt had a small angel printed on one shoulder and a small devil on the other. She hooked a thumb behind her. “Okay, your housekeeper is super adorable.”
Chloe frowned at Lucifer, who lifted a nonchalant shoulder. “And I love that she’s got that whole answer me these riddles three thing going on.”
Chloe’s eyebrows lifted. Ella grinned. “Are they person-specific? ‘Cause I’m not sure Dan’s going to be able to say ‘Today is a good day to die!’ in Klingon, y’know?”
“Daniel has different questions,” Lucifer replied, a little too smoothly.
“You know we will actually have to talk to him,” Chloe said. Without replying, Lucifer returned to the stove and poured the eggs into the waiting pan.
“Well,” said Ella just a touch too loudly, “I’m definitely not here to work … because the LAPD is a bunch of goobers who wrongfully fired like, their best team ever, but whatever.”
“An unnecessary precaution, Miss Lopez,” said Lucifer.
“But appreciated all the same,” Chloe added. “Since the paparazzi can be absolutely relentless.”
Lucifer huffed his annoyance. “Hot cocoa?”
“D’you have whipped cream?” At Lucifer’s exaggeratedly lascivious expression, Ella only rolled her eyes. “Do you have not-sexual-in-any-way-because-gross whipped cream?”
Ella’s sharp gaze landed on Chloe; the smile began widening when she noticed the robe and grew to a full-fledged grin by the time she reached the ring. She lunged for Chloe’s hand and oohed her appreciation. “Okay, that’s freaking gorgeous. Are you sure this can’t be a real-deal sorta situation?”
Ella lifted her hands in surrender. “No, no, you’re right, Chlo. Lesson learned. Business: not mine.” She turned in a half-pirouette pointing in the direction of the backpack she wore. Chloe thought she recognized the symbol as something belonging to one of the Stars—Wars or Trek—but wasn’t sure which. “This contains business: yours. Let’s call it wedding planning magazines.”
Chloe rolled her eyes even though her stomach twisted uncomfortably at the reminder.
“No work before breakfast, Miss Lopez,” Lucifer warned.
“Geez. You guys haven’t had breakfast yet?” She waggled her eyebrows. “Up all night?”
“Something like that,” Chloe said.
“You were all over the internet this morning. Kemp was super stoked. Yes. We are both not working on a Sunday. You’re welcome.” Ella’s smile faltered. “Do you think—you don’t think she’s … one of them, do you?”
Lucifer slid the omelette-laden plate in front of Chloe; it smelled delicious, but her appetite had vanished. Lucifer said, “‘Them’ encapsulates a rather large number of variables.”
Ella ducked her chin and seemed to fold into herself, like a wilting flower left too long in a vase. “Pierce’s people.” Her fingers twisted together. “She seems so nice, but so was Pierce! I mean. He pretended to be.”
“As you say,” Lucifer said, voice gone remote enough that Ella glanced up and immediately took a step toward him, arms open to hug. Lucifer sidestepped her neatly, returning to his place at the espresso machine. The sound of milk steaming filled the abrupt silence.
Chloe ate a bite of her omelette and, appetite or no appetite, it was so delicious it took an effort to swallow the little moan of pleasure.
The Devil made me breakfast. She shook her head. Ella pulled herself onto the next stool over and began pulling files from her backpack. It brings the Devil pleasure to make me breakfast.
Lucifer brought Ella a mug topped with whipped cream and chocolate shavings. Not even plain old cocoa powder. Actual chocolate shavings. He said, “If the new lieutenant has any connection to the old, I will discover it.”
Chloe paused, fork halfway to her lips. “And will you share that information with the class this time?”
The flinch was almost invisible, but she still caught it. “Of course, Detective.”
“Not awkward at all,” Ella said to her mountain of whipped cream. “How about those dead bodies, Ella? Yeah, Ella, you came all the way here; let’s talk about that.”
Lucifer said nothing. Chloe ate her omelette. Ella took a drink of cocoa that left her with a whipped-cream mustache and tapped the fingertips of her right hand anxiously against the pile of files she’d liberated from her backpack.
“Very well,” Lucifer finally said. “I fear you might implode if you must wait much longer, Miss Lopez.”
Ella opened the first of the files. “Okay! Great. First up, we’ve got Felix Carding. Male, 41, actor—you know all that. Death ruled natural causes, but what with him being a public figure and producers being paranoid as hell about insurance, his file’s pretty thorough.”
“Right,” said Chloe, pushing the last few bites of her omelette away with a contented sigh. “Everyone wants to avoid the scenario where someone stubs a toe on set and sues for half the film’s budget.”
Ella nodded, flipping through a few pages. “Exactly. His wife tried that, by the way. Insurance shut her down completely. He was found in his trailer, no sign of a struggle, nada. Except this.”
She drew a photograph from the pile and pushed it, face up, to the center of the island. Chloe could see the young man he’d been so clearly in the features before her now, but she’d certainly never seen him terrified like this. Death had done nothing to soften the expression.
“Perhaps he knew his fate,” Lucifer said mildly. On Chloe’s look, he shook his head minutely. “Not that. I daresay many a good man has gone to his grave looking frightened.” His voice hardened. “I would ask my sister, but she’s been rather absent these millennia.”
“You have a sister?” Ella asked. “Dude! Lucky!”
“Not particularly,” Lucifer replied. “And I have several. The Angel of Death is merely the one who might have the relevant experience when it comes to the expressions of the deceased.”
“Um. Okay. Well. Since we can’t exactly take a statement from the, um, Angel of Death, I guess we’re stuck with plain old forensic evidence.” Ella glanced sideways at Chloe, but Chloe could barely manage a smile, let alone a reassuring one. Angel of Death, right. No big deal. Just one of Lucifer’s sisters.
“Our guy here definitely died because his heart stopped. Weird thing, though. He was perfectly healthy. A heart attack’s usually caused by clots or blockages, right? But the ME found no evidence of any of that. The official cause of death was listed as stress cardiomyopathy.”
Chloe shook her head.
“Broken-heart syndrome? No?” Ella turned to the medical examiner’s notes. “Autopsy showed abnormalities in the shape of the heart consistent with stress cardiomyopathy. Whiiiich usually stems from emotional distress—adrenaline spike after really bad news, for example. But Felix hadn’t made or received any calls, and, as far as anyone knows, no one visited him in his trailer. He was kinda obsessed with that.” Ella raised her eyebrows at Lucifer. “Method actors, am I right?”
Lucifer only sighed.
“Almost the same, except this time he died on set. Like, in the dark. By the craft table. During a scene. No one heard a thing. Boom, lights go on and there he is, broken-heart syndrome again.”
“An unlikely coincidence,” Lucifer said.
“I know, right? ‘Cause this is the weirdest thing—stress cardiomyopathy’s not usually fatal. At least, not so quick. It presents like a heart attack—sweating, chest pain, shortness of breath—and usually the adrenaline or whatever works its way through and yay! Heart starts beating again. Doesn’t even do the damage that a garden-variety heart attack does.” Ella leaned forward, propping her elbows on the island and planting her chin in her hands.
“And Carlos was also healthy?”
“Like an ox. Dude could give Dan a run for his money at the gym, no problem.” She grimaced. “That’s the other anomaly. When stress cardiomyopathy kills? It’s usually women over sixty. Not fit dudes in their prime.”
Chloe reached for a pen and pad of paper, scribbling notes as she spoke. “Okay, it looks like a duck and presents medically as a duck, but could it be something else?”
“Fowl play?” asked Lucifer.
Chloe laughed, which led to Lucifer looking both pleased and smug. Ella, on the other hand, dropped her face into her hands and groaned.
After Ella had taken them through everything she knew and a truly daunting list of everything she didn’t, she followed Chloe through the ‘yard’ and up the curving stairs to the balcony.
Ella sounded so momentarily serious that Chloe paused mid-step and nearly tripped. Facing Ella, she asked, “What’s up, babe?”
“Back, well, you know. Before. You said, um, all of ‘this’ was about Lucifer. And now—well. Now there’s a lot more ‘this.’ Is it okay? Are you okay? Because I’m not gonna make the same mistakes as last time. I’ve got no problem marching into the LT’s office and giving her a piece of my mind if this is all too much—”
Chloe settled a hand on Ella’s slight shoulder and gave it a squeeze. “I know you’ve got my back.”
“It’s just … Kemp, she’s new. She doesn’t know about all the, well. ‘This.’ All the history.”
Shrugging, Chloe continued up the steps. The day had gone hot while they were inside the poolhouse; the robe was definitely overkill. And she didn’t want to ruin it with sweat stains. “We had a moment. Before Charlotte—before everything with Charlotte.” She glanced over her shoulder. “We do that. Have moments. And then something happens. Things get … confused.”
“Like, if a moment falls in the forest and no one’s there to hear it, did it even really happen?”
Chloe laughed. “Yeah, maybe.”
“Are we talking yay!moment or oh-crap!moment?”
“Yay? I think. Maybe yay with a side of well-that’s-a-lot-to-take-in.”
Whatever Chloe expected Ella to say, it wasn’t, “Oh no! Oh, buddy, what happened to you?”
Chloe said, “It’s hard to explain,” before she realized Ella wasn’t talking to her. Ella took the last two stairs at a leap and crossed to the injured bird lying near the glass door. A few small tufts of feather were stuck to the glass next to an unmistakable smear of red.
Ella reached into her pocket, snapped on a pair of gloves, and gathered the bird gently in her hands in one swift motion. Chloe saw white feathers and blood and froze so abruptly she nearly tripped. “This is just wrong,” Ella said, her accent sharper in her anger. “These idiots who think it’s romantic having a bunch of helpless birds released at their weddings. This is what happens. They’re not supposed to be out here. They end up getting hurt, or hunted, or lost.”
She opened her hands, presenting the bird—dead, definitely dead with a neck at that angle—like an offering. Breakfast churned in Chloe’s stomach. The bird’s feathers were so white. Its blood so red.
Whatever Ella saw in her face made her tuck the unfortunate bird away. “Hey, Chlo, sorry. I know it looks bad, but it didn’t suffer.”
“Didn’t it?” Chloe asked. Shaking her head, she strode to the door without looking at the bird. Or the glass. “I think—if it’s all the same, Ella, I think maybe I’ll call it for today. Let me know if anything changes?”
She didn’t hear Ella’s response. By the time Chloe made it to her stupidly large bathroom and shut the door, she couldn’t stop swallowing. She’d seen crime scenes that haunted her dreams, corpses so maimed or broken or decomposed she couldn’t tell if they were male or female, but the little bird with its broken, bloody feathers and its broken, bloody neck undid her, and sent the breakfast it had so pleased Lucifer to make her heaving into the toilet.
Lucifer dressed carefully, impeccably. Crisp, white shirt; cufflinks; black wool suit. A red silk pocket square; red-soled Louboutins polished to a sheen. He banished his curls. He walked through a spritz of the scent that no one else in all the world possessed. He refilled his flask.
He glanced up at the balcony, but the Detective was nowhere to be seen. Miss Lopez, looking uncharacteristically troubled, had mumbled a goodbye whilst he was finishing the dishes and vanished before he could ask the matter.
The case, he supposed. Or her worries about the new lieutenant. Thoughts of the last lieutenant rose unbidden, and Lucifer banished those, too. If the smite from Above was coming, he refused to spend his time quailing before the possibility. He’d bloody well had enough of that in the first fortnight when, every night, he woke from dreams of Chloe’s damning fear with the sound of breaking bones and the particular suction of a knife entering flesh in his ears.
Later, he let himself into the house. He chose the most comfortable chair. He lit a cigarette and didn’t smoke it; when ash crumbled from the burning tip, he let it fall to the ground. The Detective, he knew, did not care for the habit. For him, it wasn’t the nicotine; more often than not, that small kick was gone before he could truly appreciate it. No. He relished the sensation that here, trapped between his fingers, slender and insignificant, was an emblem of Hell. Heat and stink and ash and poison incapable of harming him, incapable of containing him. He could stub it out at will, no brothers to collect him, no doors to rattle on their hinges.
When the first burned down to his fingertips, he lit a second from the ashes.
He drank deeply from his flask; a different kind of smoke, a different kind of heat. Not so much Hell in this one.
“Hel-lo,” he purred when the door finally opened. He crossed one knee over the other. He took a drag from the cigarette before putting it out on the glass of a framed picture. “I’ve been waiting for you.”
He didn’t blink.
He was hunting, after all.
In the doorway, Faith Kemp—oh, the delicious irony there—rested a hand on her holstered gun. She didn’t snap or scream; she hardly flinched. Ballsy, this one. If he could afford to, he thought he might like her, foolish name and all.
“Guess I should’ve expected this,” she said. She lifted her hand away from her weapon, showing him her palms. Then she merely shrugged out of her jacket and hung it next to the door. She left her weapon there, too; interesting. Sitting down opposite him, she scowled at the little pile of ashes his cigarette had left. “Was that really necessary? The wood floor’s original.”
“We saw Miss Lopez today.”
“I’m aware,” she replied evenly. “She probably mentioned that I sent her.”
Lucifer watched her. Gauged her. Canny, he thought. Clever.
“She raised a point of particular interest.”
Kemp smiled; the expression didn’t touch her eyes. She was gauging him right back. Sensible. “Should I guess?”
With a magnanimous wave of his hand, Lucifer gestured for her to continue.
“She’s worried I’m connected to—to Pierce. To the Sinnerman’s network.”
He folded his hands. Watched. She was very good; only the faint flush in her cheek betrayed her unease. “You hesitated. Why?”
She leaned forward, planting her forearms on her thighs and meeting him gaze for gaze; if she was unnerved by his unblinking stare, she gave no sign of it. Curious, that. “Why bother asking if you already know?”
“Yes, well; doubtless you’re familiar with the adage about assumptions.”
She was, of course, the first to look away. “Former Lieutenant Pierce was known by another name.”
“The Sinnerman, yes; we’ve covered this. Do keep up.”
“You’re the one being disingenuous now.” She sighed, shoulders slumping. “Marcus Pierce was only the last in a long, long list of aliases—most of which I do not know. His first name was Cain.” When she raised her face again, her eyes were clear and blue and hard as sapphires. “But you know that, Samael, because you’re as real as he was.”
The slight twitch of his lips betrayed him, though he wasn’t sure what this something-more-than-lieutenant made of it. “I do not answer to that name.”
“But you did, once.”
His right ring finger tapped twice against the armrest before he stilled it. “And who are you, Faith Kemp, to know such things?”
She dropped her head, momentarily baring her neck to him. When looked at him again a moment later, she seemed tired. Perhaps sad. At another time, he’d have thought her the perfect candidate for a favor. “I’m not one of your siblings, but you know that. I’m not one of Cain’s child-soldier sycophants, either.”
“Yes, I suppose that’s how he bred such unwavering loyalty. I did wonder.”
Kemp’s jaw clenched. “He was a monster.”
The word ‘monster’ sank into the silence surrounding them. Lucifer’s ring finger tapped again. He blinked and glanced away, toward the windows. “You did not answer my question, Faith Kemp.”
Her soft chuckle cut like one of Maze’s knives. “What’s the point? I think we both know what this is going to come down to, don’t we? You look me in the eyes. Ask what I desire. And I tell you, whether I want to or not.” She folded her hands over her abdomen. “How does that work, anyway? Not the power—that’s angelic or devilish or whatever it is you’re calling yourself these days. No. You’re all about free will. Wasn’t that part of the whole ‘better to reign in Hell’ bit?”
“Old Johnny’s blindness extended beyond his eyesight, I’m afraid. Reigning was never my desire.” Lucifer smiled without baring his teeth. Dangerous. “He was right about the serving, though.”
“And yet this…” She wiggled her fingers in the general direction of her eyes. “Isn’t that a kind of servitude? Doesn’t forcing people to spill their secrets go against that code? On a fundamental level?”
“They tell me because, as you say, on a fundamental level, they desire me to know.”
She cocked her head, gaze sharp as a hawk’s. “Are you sure about that?”
“I do not force.”
She shrugged. “I believe you believe that.”
“I’ll not ask a third time.”
She clapped her hands to her thighs as if she’d made a decision and rose to her feet. Lucifer’s hand twitched again, wanting the occupation of another cigarette or a drink from his flask. Kemp crossed to her coat, reached inside an inner pocket, and pulled out a leather wallet. Without looking back, she tossed it over her shoulder at him. He caught it effortlessly and looked inside.
“The Federal Bureau of Investigation. It appears the Detective was right about you lot.”
Kemp snorted and crouched to open a cabinet. From within, she drew a bottle covered in a thick layer of dust. When she blew on it, only some came away in a cloud; the rest remained stuck to the glass. “Drink?” she asked. “Not sure if it’s good; it was a gift.”
“And clearly you do not imbibe.”
She rummaged around and found two tumblers. They did not match. When she handed him one of them, he made a point of cleaning the dust off with his pocket square. She cracked the bottle and poured two healthy portions. The smell alone told him it was a good whiskey; just enough smoke, with sweetness to round out the burn. She clinked the edge of her glass to his, left the bottle beside him, and returned to her seat.
“What did Decker say?”
Pointedly, Lucifer said, “Detective Decker thought I’d a hand in … mitigating the fallout of the former lieutenant’s death. I assured her I did not.”
The corner of Kemp’s mouth turned up. “In a roundabout way, you did. The case came to me. I knew what I was looking at. Most wouldn’t have. She’s got good instincts, your Detective. I don’t suppose she knows about this little interrogation?”
Lucifer raised his brows slightly. “An ugly word for a civil conversation.”
“Did you know Cain was keeping tabs on every celestial and celestial-adjacent being he was aware of? Along with most things more generally covered by the umbrella term ‘supernatural’?”
Lucifer said nothing.
Kemp ran a fingertip along the rim of her glass. She wore her smiles and her magnanimity like a costume, a mask. That, he understood. That, he recognized.
He did not know who she was beneath it.
With just a touch of a sneer, he said, “Ahh, let me guess. You’ve been relegated to a dank basement full of cardboard boxes and mismatched furniture. You’ve a partner who believes in aliens? I’ve seen this one.”
“If I went around telling people my real job title, I guess I’d get that a lot. But no. It’s a fully-funded department.” She made a face, scrunching up her nose. “Besides, I definitely believe. No ‘wanting to’ about it. There are bigger and badder things out there than Sasquatch and the cryptid rats living in the New York City sewer system—not that they’re nice.”
“Myself, for instance.”
Kemp laughed, a sharp, startled bark. “Nice try. You don’t maim—apart from occasionally putting the fear of God—”
Lucifer cleared his throat.
“I stand corrected. Putting the fear of the Devil in people who deserve it. Jimmy Barnes will certainly never be the same, but most of the time your … effect isn’t even permanent. But you don’t kill. You don’t lure lonely, lost, abandoned, broken children into your orbit and then systematically brainwash them into both loving and fearing you in equal measure until they would lie and kill and die for you without hesitation.” She shook her head. Decisively. The smile did not vanish from her lips. “I’m sure as shit not here for you, Lucifer. Even when you skirt the law—human laws—you’re meticulously fair about your dealings. Eye for an eye may be old school, but I’ll take it over murderous psychopath killing for fun and profit any damn day of the week.” She lifted her glass in a silent salute and sipped from it. “You and Decker—sorry, Detective Decker—have done more to help me out than you know.”
“One might say you owe us a favor, then, Special Agent Kemp.”
“Maybe you should’ve gone for the contract signed in blood. I did offer.”
Lucifer chuckled. “And how did you find your way to the X-Files, darling?”
“They found me. I was a cop—that much is true. I’m not bullshitting this lieutenant thing even though I didn’t reach that rank in the Force. I think we can both agree this precinct’s had quite enough of bullshit leadership. I couldn’t leave well enough alone, especially with the weird cases. I guess you can only research supernatural creatures and divine entities on a precinct computer so many times before some light goes off in Washington.” She laughed ruefully. “I didn’t quite shit myself when a pair of G-men came asking hard questions, but it was a close call. It was between forced retirement—loony-bin style—or recruitment. Here I am.”
Lucifer savored the last of his liquor before setting the glass down on the table next to the bottle and his cigarette butt. “Why distract the Detective with this undercover nonsense?”
Kemp snorted. “You think that’s what’s going on? Are you kidding? She knows now, Lucifer. About you. About all of … this. You think the things that go bump in the night aren’t out there committing crimes? Pinning it on people who can’t protect themselves, can’t save themselves? Chloe Decker’s one of the best damned detectives I’ve ever seen, and now I can point her at the unbelievable knowing she’ll do her damnedest to unravel the truth. The actual truth.”
“You … suspect something supernatural behind these deaths, then.”
“Lopez showed you the files. These guys didn’t spontaneously die of heart failure. No way. Maybe Bianca Bennett’s right, and it’s all about her. But Chloe Decker did one movie. And two of her co-stars are dead. I don’t believe in coincidence, Lucifer.”
“You might have passed on some of this information.”
Lucifer did not miss the way her jaw clenched or the momentary thinning of her lips. “I’m passing it on now. Trust me, if you hadn’t come to me, I’d have figured out a good way to get to you. Somewhere not in a precinct still teeming with possible Pierce sympathizers.”
“Now, now, you know as well as I do the mantra’s ‘trust no one.’”
Kemp put down her glass and smacked the flat of her palm hard to her thigh, hard enough that the sound reverberated through the sudden silence, the sudden stillness. “This isn’t a joke. Cain’s files. All the ones he was keeping. They got passed to me. I don’t know who else has seen what’s in them. I don’t know if any of Cain’s lieutenants were privy to that information, either. It matters.”
“And you suspect the Sinnerman’s network remains as active as it ever was?”
After a long inhale and an even longer exhale, Kemp said, “There’s no doubt Cain loved control, sure. He was a mob boss worse than anything we’ve ever seen. Hell, he probably had his fingers in every gangster game since the beginning of time. Every culture’s got a Sinnerman, something so dark and so fucking evil people are afraid to even think about it.”
“Yes, darling,” Lucifer drawled. “Your earlier assessment aside, I believe you’ll find that monster is usually me.”
Kemp rose as if driven by some inner fire, stalked to one end of the room, turned on a heel, and then stalked back. At her sides, her hands closed into fists, opened, closed. The ire, Lucifer suspected, was not for him. After two or three turns of the room, she stopped in front of him. “And who do you think was the source of that reputation?”
“My Father, of course.”
“You really do, don’t you?” Kemp laughed, sounding more than a little unhinged. “You don’t think the world’s first murderer might’ve had something to do with it? You don’t think maybe, just maybe, when times were tough and Adam and Eve were cranky about having been kicked out of Paradise, their firstborn child wasn’t listening? With everything you know about that child, about his willingness to blame everyone—even his own brother—don’t you think he was already crafting a convincing narrative? The ultimate scapegoat?” She pulled her arms in tight around herself, a mockery of an embrace. “When Cain stood over Abel’s body, both sullen and defiant, don’t you think he might have been the first to whisper, ‘The Devil made me do it?’ Hell, maybe he even heard that from his mother, too.”
His fingers itched to hold another cigarette. “And why, pray tell, should you care?”
She looked directly at him, unwavering. “Do you want to know what I desire, Lucifer Morningstar? Do you want to know what I’ll say when you look into my eyes and peel back all the layers of protection and pain and pretense?”
He inclined his head. The barest fraction of a movement.
“I want justice,” she said. “I want justice.”
Lucifer steepled his fingers. He watched. He judged.
He asked, “Whose?”
She blinked, startled, and touched her hand to her throat.
“Plato’s? Marx’s? My Father’s?” His eyes flashed. Kemp’s lips parted and a tear trickled down one cheek. Bigger and badder, indeed. A slow, predatory smile, perfected by a millennium’s practice, curled his lips. “Mine?”
She took a step backward. Her back thumped as it hit the wall.
“Who are you?” he asked again, rising. She was tall enough that he couldn’t loom as he usually did; frustrating. He allowed his Devil face to emerge—no mere glimpse, no mere flash. Kemp made a sound deep in her throat and the battle between her instinct to flee and her desire to stand her ground was evident in her trembling limbs and clenched jaw.
“My name is Faith.” She didn’t look away, though her eyes shone with terror. “Lord Lucifer, I am of the nephilim.”
He moved without thought, without letting human notions of physics and the possible hamper him. One instant, he stood before her; the next, he held her hard against the wall, feet dangling a foot above the floor. Original wood. “Who begat you?” he snarled. Spittle landed on her cheek, leaving small angry pockmarks in her flesh.
She didn’t resist, didn’t fight, didn’t so much as shake her head. He tightened his fingers. Felt her swallow. Knew how easy it would be to crush her throat. End her threat. “Tell me, abomination! Whose spawn are you? Azazel? Sariel?”
“No,” she gasped. “No. I’m … I’m not … that old.”
His fingers ached to close. Her lips formed the words can’t say. With a sound somewhere between a howl and a curse, he dropped her. She landed in a boneless heap, desperate breaths whistling in her injured throat. Too much. Too much. The whole bloody thing with Cain, now this. He clenched his hands into fists and buried those fists in his trouser pockets. He dismissed his Devil face and pretended it didn’t bother him that it stuck for a few moments longer than he wished it to.
“Do you really work for the FBI?”
“Yes,” she managed.
“And you were a police officer?”
“What did Cain take from you?”
She lifted her face again, and though he was expecting tears, he saw only steely resolve. “Justice.”
She set her jaw. Though it was probably only a trick of the late afternoon sunlight streaming in from the window behind her, she seemed nearly to glow with her certainty. “Justice.”
“I believe you,” he said. “I do not trust you, but I believe you.”
“Are you going to kill me?”
He said nothing.
“I mean you no harm, Lord Lucifer. I know who you are, and I mean you no harm.”
“Ahh, but which me do you know? The charming, crime-solving Devil? The rebellious angel? The Lord of Hell?” He preemptively silenced her with a wave of his hand. The light glinted off his ring. Off his cufflink.
“The one that won’t kill me for something outside my control, I hope. We nephilim are no more identical than you and your siblings. I … I don’t think I should die because of … what my father is.”
Lucifer tilted his head. “Can’t say or won’t say?”
Kemp inhaled and closed her eyes. “Won’t.”
“I appreciate your honesty.” He grinned; it had the intended effect. She blinked in startled confusion. “Far be it from me to go around murdering the nieces and nephews no one wants to invite to family dinners.” He waited at the door, hand curled around the knob. The grin turned predatory again. He didn’t blink. “Do not give me cause to regret this. You and I both know Father’s rules about humans do not pertain to your kind.”
“Will you tell … will you tell Detective Decker?”
“What? That just as we’ve rid ourselves of the world’s first murderer, we’ve landed a Special Agent lieutenant who’s an unholy human-angel crossbreed of the type all good angels are told to annihilate on sight?” Lucifer’s eyebrow twitched. “Of course I will. Straight away.”
“I’m not evil.”
“I didn’t think I was, either.” He turned away from her, turned the knob. “Never call me Lord again. And never use the name I cast aside.” He glanced over his shoulder. Smirked. “I’m Lucifer bloody Morningstar, and you’re the lieutenant who’ll be forever patching over my procedural mistakes.”
“Thank you,” she said.
“Don’t,” he replied. “That’s a different kind of contract signed in blood.”
I am behind on replying to comments. I'm sorry! I love each and every one, but the past couple of weeks have been so work-busy it's been a choice of "post chapter" or "finish replies"---and I think I know which you would have me choose ;) Next week looks to be much calmer, so replies will be incoming! Thank you again to everyone reading (and reviewing, and kudosing, and recommending). I'm so, so, so grateful. Please enjoy this very long (for me) chapter <3
Later, when she’d scrubbed her skin and hair within an inch of its life, and brushed her teeth until not even the memory of sickness remained; when she’d napped until she felt like herself again; when she’d ruined one of the nice washcloths removing all trace of death from her window and then showered once more for good measure, Chloe found Lucifer in the poolhouse. She knocked against the frame of the open patio doors. Lucifer, reading in one corner while nursing a scotch, lifted his eyes and made a face, which she took as permission. In stark contrast to the morning, he now wore one of his impeccable three-piece suits.
“You’ve gone back to the black, white, and red motif,” Chloe said.
Lucifer glanced down at himself. “Would you prefer otherwise? Puce, perhaps? Or mustard?”
She huffed a breath of laughter. “Are you going to Lux?”
He crossed his legs and set down his papers. He looked as though he might say something, and then he merely shook his head. “I hadn’t planned on it.”
“You missed last night.”
He smiled, but his expression remained distant. Concerned? “Indeed. I thought it might seem suspicious to be … hosting there, the night after my supposed engagement.”
Her mouth opened, then closed, and she nodded.
“It may surprise you, but the place does rather run on its own.”
She snorted. “Given how often you’ve used running it as an excuse to get out of paperwork, I gotta say I am surprised.”
He moved as if to drink, then stopped and rose. “Forgive me. May I get you anything?”
“As long as it’s not toast?”
“Toasted malt, perhaps.”
“A small one. I’ve seen Oliver’s schedule. I don’t want to be off my game on my first day.”
“Impossible,” Lucifer said, handing her a glass obediently filled only to one finger’s width. “You are the game, Detective. Everything waits on you.”
Sitting in the chair angled toward his, she took a tiny sip of her drink. “That sounds like a good way to get labeled a diva before I even start.”
“You needn’t ask for only green M&Ms or water from a specific well in France.” He smirked slightly. “Though, should you wish to…”
“Yeah, no. I’m good.”
Lucifer tapped one fingertip against the arm of his chair; if there was a pattern, Chloe couldn’t make it out. She asked, “Is there a reason you’re out here? In the poolhouse, I mean.”
“The house is yours, Detective. I thought that obvious.”
“The house is definitely yours. You could’ve put Trix and me out here.”
“Would you be more comfortable with that arrangement?”
She knew Lucifer well enough to spot the beginning of some kind of verbal trap. “I’m just saying that the main house is big enough for all of us. And probably the entire precinct, too.”
Lucifer shuddered dramatically. “Dearie me, no. I’ve seen the state of the precinct men’s room.” His lips curved. “And the ladies’ too, for that matter.”
“The ladi—of course you have.” His admission only made her chuckle. “You’re really something, Lucifer.”
“I should say so.”
She worried the edge of her silk blouse between her fingers, twisting the fabric until her skin started to tingle. Several times, she opened her mouth to speak. Several times, she shut it again.
Finally, Lucifer asked, “More questions of metaphysical importance, Detective?”
“No. Well. Maybe.” She took a deep breath, held it, and then released it hard. “Do you think they should know? Ella, at least? Dan? About you. About … well. You.”
“And disabuse Miss Lopez of the notion that I’ve been somehow preparing for a role for years?” His vague, sweeping gesture seemed to encompass everything and nothing. A flicker of something she couldn’t place flashed across his features and was quickly smothered. “A human mind will twist itself into the most complicated and nonsensical knots to deny that particular truth, Detective. Surely you’ve noticed.” His expression darkened. “Seeing irrefutable evidence of the truth does not always end in understanding and hugs all around.”
Chloe nodded, looking into her glass. The amber liquid was beautiful in the dim light. She drank again, to buy herself a moment to think. Before she could speak, Lucifer spoke again. “Detective, I—I gave you my word. To … to share. Any information I discovered.”
She blinked. “About—you don’t mean—did you talk to the lieutenant?”
“I said I would.”
“I didn’t think you meant, you know, right away.” She shook her head. He wasn’t meeting her gaze; instead, he looked down at his own glass. Try as she might, she couldn’t decipher his inscrutable expression. “Lucifer? I’m guessing it’s … not great?”
She knew it was serious when he actually put his tumbler down and turned in his seat, facing her. He steepled his fingers. “I’ve reason to believe she’s an … ally.”
Inscrutable definitely shifted toward pained. “Detective, I will tell you, if you desire it.”
She narrowed her eyes, trying to read him. “Do you think I … won’t, uh, desire it?”
He sighed. “The mundane detail is that Faith Kemp is an undercover agent working for the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”
Her stomach dropped to the vicinity of her knees even as heat rose in her cheeks. Of course. It had all been too easy. Too simple. Too … too wrong to escape unscathed. “Investigating me? Us?”
Lucifer shook his head. “No. Her interest lies in the supernatural. Supernatural crime; the things that slip through the fingers of traditional law enforcement because they do not truly know what they are looking at. Or looking for.”
She held up a finger to pause him and sipped from her glass. After a steadying breath, she said, “Supernatural. Like—you. And Amenadiel. And Pier—Cain.”
Lucifer lifted his shoulders slightly. “Celestial beings—divine beings—are not the only … supernatural entities.”
“Okay,” she said. “Okay. Okay, sure.” She was nodding too much; she knew she was nodding too much. She couldn’t seem to stop herself from nodding. “Okay.”
“Let me, um, okay. So. Kemp investigates supernatural crimes. And—how do we fit in?”
“She … would like us to focus on—”
Chloe’s laugh startled them both. She lifted a hand to cover her mouth, as though the mirth were something to be ashamed of. “You’re right. Okay. Baby steps. With this. Whole thing.”
Lucifer nodded, concern clearly written across his features. The Devil is concerned about me. She swallowed another laugh because she was afraid it might come out sounding more than slightly hysterical.
“Kemp is not entirely human. She may be … family,” he said, eyes never leaving hers. Not predatory; not like when he stared down perps or idiots. “I will tell you more as it becomes relevant. And as I discover it.” He swallowed audibly. “I do … understand why you’ve reason to doubt that.”
Chloe’s giddiness fled, chased away by the remorse she heard so clearly in his tone. “Your family sounds … incredibly complicated.”
Lucifer’s lips twisted, but for the life of her, she couldn’t tell if the expression was irritated or remorseful or just sad. “Far more … complicated than one evening’s conversation will clarify, I’m afraid. I’ve a great many siblings, Detective.”
“Right. Um. Like the Angel of Death?”
Lucifer shrugged. She didn’t miss the flash of pain that crossed his features, or the way he covered it with nonchalance so feigned it hurt.
Chloe took a fortifying drink of alcohol before setting the glass down on a side table. Her stomach twisted into loops, like a gymnast’s ribbon twirling and whirling and never staying put for longer than the moment it took to encourage another loop. “Will you show me?”
“You’ve met Amenadiel. He’s fairly representative. Dull. Sanctimonious. Absent.”
She shook her head, realizing he hadn’t understood—that she hadn’t said all the words she needed to say to make him understand. “I meant … your face. Last year, before everything, you said you wanted to show me. You said you couldn’t.”
She’d seen an actual deer caught in actual headlights before; Lucifer’s expression mirrored the one she remembered. For a moment, she thought he’d do as the deer had done and bolt. His glass shook ever so slightly as he raised it to his lips and didn’t actually drink.
“Because it matters to you,” she replied. “And because what matters to you, matters to me.”
“That simple, is it?”
“It could be.”
He pushed one hand back through his hair, undoing the careful styling and leaving the dark strands in disarray. “I’m no longer certain what matters.”
He blinked and met her gaze. “Okay?”
She shook her head. “Lucifer, I’m not going to force you to do it. I’m not going to beg or plead or pout. Baby steps go both ways. I just want you to know that if you want to show me … the other parts of yourself, no matter how scary you think they are, I want to see them.” Leaning forward, she planted her elbows on her knees and refused to look away from him. “You’re right; I told you that I felt comfortable being myself around you. I told you that I feel like I can be vulnerable around you. This … this is what I meant. If you have a different face or a different body or wings or horns and a tail, I want to know. Because I … I’ve told you before, I do know you. Nothing you can show me will change what I’ve discovered for myself.”
His eyes narrowed, but he didn’t look away. “Detective, you’ve learned I’m the Devil. The boogeyman all the other boogeymen are shadow copies of. I was the Lord of Hell for countless eons. I—”
“You bring me my favorite coffee every day, without fail.”
“Dan and I were married for years. He still brings me regular milk and vanilla syrup most of the time because that’s what he likes.”
She swallowed hard, scooting to the very edge of her seat, bringing her closer to his chair. Their knees nearly touched. “You don’t actually resent that I put my daughter first—I think maybe you just wish someone had done that for you. You know that every crime scene breaks my heart, even though I’ll never admit it. I think you might even appreciate my impossibly boring middle name.”
“Jane,” he whispered.
“Jane,” she agreed.
It took very little effort to tip forward out of her seat, landing on her knees. Her knee brushed the outside of his foot. Shoes in a poolhouse. So Lucifer.
“You’re always running from me,” she said, echoing the words she’d spoken several days and a different lifetime ago, resting the fingertips of her right hand against his ankle, unable to meet his gaze. The warmth of him warmed her fingers, even through layers of sock and wool. “You never lie, but you’re always running.”
“Chloe.” Her name made her breath catch, even though it was barely louder than the breath he exhaled to speak it. “I don’t know how to stop.”
She looked up. His eyes were fixed on her, expression so raw she wanted to weep. Instead, she put her hand on his knee. His Adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed. He set his empty glass down with a clink. The freed hand reached for her and hesitated, so she moved her cheek closer, covering the distance between them.
Her eyes burned, and she did not look away.
“You were frightened,” he said. “You could hardly speak.”
“I was shocked. I won’t be shocked again.”
“You don’t know—”
“I do, Lucifer,” she said.
His face … changed. She didn’t blink, but still, between one heartbeat and the next, the dark hair and dark eyes and fair skin with the freckles she found so adorable were gone, replaced by the face she saw in her dreams, red and burned and flayed and impossible. Chloe didn’t look away. His eyes … there was no pretending his eyes were human eyes. Her brain wanted to explain the flickering as a reflection of flames, but she knew very well there was no fireplace behind her.
She wanted to run. She did. Every instinct that had kept human beings alive long enough to evolve screamed danger, danger, danger. Her inhale shuddered audibly. Her fingers tightened on Lucifer’s trouser leg. He didn’t move. He didn’t even breathe. But the palm still held against her cheek was warm, and it trembled.
Danger, danger, danger.
Not to me.
Terrifying, yes. And wounded.
Chloe Jane Decker ran toward the wounded, not away.
She turned her head before she could doubt herself, and pressed her lips against the base of his thumb. The skin beneath her kiss was as red as the skin of his face, but it felt no different. Hotter, perhaps, and dry, unlike the skin any burn victim she’d ever seen.
This time, his was the audible inhale. His fingertips spasmed against her face but exerted no pressure. Chloe brought her free hand up to capture his, to keep it where it was. Now, when her heart pounded in her chest, it wasn’t danger, danger, danger. She didn’t want to run. She didn’t want to sit down.
“Detective,” he whispered. “You shouldn’t—this isn’t—”
Though the landscape of his face was different, she was all too familiar with the troubled expression he wore. She knew the tension in his shoulders; the pulse at his throat. And here he was, a predator—the Predator—looking at her like he was terrified. Waiting for punishment.
“I’m not going anywhere,” she said.
“This isn’t how I want you to see me,” he said. “I think perhaps I never wanted you to see me like this. And so, I made excuses. I withheld information. I … was not honest. Not in the way you deserved.” He held up his other hand to forestall any protest, but, for once, she was willing to let this use of deserve stand. “I let you believe a lie and, in doing so, I lied to you.”
She dropped her hand from his and sat back on her heels; as she’d suspected he would, he rose and began to pace. He didn’t, however, immediately reach for alcohol or flee or deflect with humor.
“How do you want me to see you?”
He glanced at his hands, looking almost startled when he saw his flesh was still burned. His fair skin returned; his cheeks were flushed, but naturally; his dark hair was still mussed from his earlier actions. “I don’t … I don’t know.”
She swallowed, seeing the white bird in Ella’s blue-gloved hands. Broken. Bloody. “Is this about your wings? I remember you, um, weren’t happy about them.”
Lucifer turned his face as though her words, softly spoken, had lashed out and struck him. “On some level, it seems, I did choose them. Want them. But I did not know it then, and now I fear it’s … too late for that.”
“What do you—”
He didn’t wait for her to finish. Unlike the instantaneous appearance and disappearance of his face, he shrugged his shoulders—rolled them really—and his face contorted in pain. With a soft gust of wind, his wings … appeared. She gasped, but felt like she had inhaled water instead of oxygen.
His wings were mangled—bloody—feathers askew and missing and twisted.
“I assure you, Detective, they were beautiful once.”
She didn’t need to be told. She could—God. She pressed her hand hard to her mouth because she didn’t want to offend him by pleading or praying or weeping. When she’d gotten herself under control, she managed, “What happened to you, Lucifer?”
She didn’t remember consciously getting to her feet or crossing the room or reaching for the hand currently clenched into a fist at his side.
“I thought I wanted them gone. For months. Maze wouldn’t cut them off, and neither would Linda, so I did it. And they kept coming back. Time after bloody time. I didn’t—of course, I didn’t bloody know, then. That I was giving them to my own bloody self, wasn’t I?”
“Lucifer, I don’t … I don’t understand. I don’t know what you mean.”
His wings snapped wide and … ruffled. Not unlike a dog shaking its head or a person indignantly rolling their eyes. Several feathers drifted to the ground. More than one of them was dark with old, dried blood.
“You said you and injury have relationships of short duration. Lucifer, this happened a month ago.” She peered closely at the nearest wing. Fresh blood seeped from a wound she recognized at once as resulting from a bullet. “You’re still bleeding, for God’s sake.”
“I do not think they will heal this time,” Lucifer said softly. “And if I cut them off, I suppose they’ll remain gone.”
Chloe dropped her face into her hands and inhaled for a count of ten. When she lifted her head, she found Lucifer watching her with concern that didn’t immediately vanish.
“Have I—have I hurt you, Detective?”
“Yes!” she cried. “You’re talking casually about self-mutilation and, I don’t know, limb amputation and I know you’re serious, and of course that hurts me, Lucifer. You are my friend. My partner. You’re—you’re important to me, and you’re talking about hurting yourself like it’s nothing.”
Worse, the shift in his expression toward bemusement spoke volumes. “It’s not like that. I’ve done this to myself.”
“Pierce and his goons shot your wings full of holes. They did this.”
“Ahh,” he said. “Yes, that much is true. I don’t regret the damage or how I received it.” He extended his left wing; fresh blood streamed from one of the agitated wounds. “But they’re dying. Because I know they … well, they represent something I no longer am.”
“I don’t follow.”
“What I did to Cain was monstrous. I forced him to feel guilt, knowing it would condemn him.”
Chloe shook her head. “Are you honestly telling me that the first murderer wasn’t going to Hell all on his own?”
“He felt no guilt about what he’d done.”
Pinching the bridge of her nose in a desperate and futile attempt to stave off her burgeoning headache, Chloe said through gritted teeth, “So, Heaven’s full of psychopaths and Hell’s full of people who feel bad and get to spend all of eternity punishing themselves over it? How does that even make sense?”
He opened his mouth, but she pressed on, unwilling to listen, unwilling to hear him blaming himself again. “Listen,” she said, “you’ve done shitty things, Lucifer. You’ve been selfish and thoughtless and occasionally cruel. You have hurt me in ways I—” She paused, biting off the words before she could say more than she wanted to. “But you are not evil. Evil is kidnapping a child to get to her mother. Evil is having a man killed because he’s about to expose your underhanded dealings. Evil is—Marcus—Cain—that was evil. Lying without hesitation. Using people without a second thought. Running a crime syndicate.”
She glanced down at the feathers on the floor. The beautiful, impossible, horrific feathers. Bending down, she retrieved several of them and held them up to him as if they were evidence
“Do you know what sounds evil to me? Setting someone up to take your fall. A dad who changes the rules without explaining them first, who tricks and cajoles and demands that his kids do what he wants, who literally changes the definition of good and evil so he can come out on top. If you ask me, given what was modeled for you, you’re doing pretty damn well.”
“Detective,” he breathed, hardly giving voice to the word at all.
She grabbed the hand that, the night before, had been wounded and now wasn’t, and he didn’t resist as she dragged him out of the room and toward the bathroom. Her throat remained too tight for words, and, for once, Lucifer appeared at a loss for his. She was glad of the brief reprieve not because she didn’t want to hear and understand the things he was trying to tell her, but because she could only take in so much before the wiring in her brain started shooting sparks and threatening to give up.
Being pissed off at Lucifer’s dad wasn’t just about questionable parenting anymore. It wasn’t about the kind of messed up daddy issues resulting from a perfectly regular dad being cold or distant or unaffectionate. No. Nope. Even though it seemed beyond impossible, like trying to jam the squarest peg into the roundest hole, the Our Father Who Art In Heaven everyone talked about was at best absentee and at worse—well. Sparking. Brain.
She wanted to ask what Lucifer had done, really. What the rebellion he’d spoken of—and that Wikipedia had certainly mentioned—had really been about. Because try as she might, Chloe couldn’t imagine Trixie doing anything that would induce her to literally cast her daughter from her sight for eternity. Hell, even if Trix did something awful, truly awful, Chloe was pretty sure she’d only feel guilty about failing her daughter so colossally.
Did you fail?
If God had an answer, he didn’t deign to share it.
In the bathroom, she gathered armfuls of untouched, too-white towels. Lucifer stood behind her; she could see him in the mirror. The sight of his wings twisted her stomach and filled her with awe in the same breath. Broken. Bloody. Even injured and bedraggled, their beauty was impossible to ignore.
She took a deep breath, steeled herself, and said, “I’ll help you.”
Puzzled, he tilted his head. “That was rather the point, I thought.”
She shook her head, still looking at his reflection. “If you … want them gone. Need them gone. I’ll help you.”
He paled. “I—don’t think you know what you’re offering.”
Pulling her bottom lip between her teeth, she bit down just hard enough for the pain to remind her this was real, that she was standing in a ridiculously large bathroom with her ridiculously supernatural partner, offering to amputate ridiculously divine limbs. “If they’re not part of who you are, if they’re … reminders of something you don’t want to be, then you shouldn’t have to have them. Not if I can help you.”
He flinched, ducking his head. His wings trembled; another blood-spattered feather drifted to the marble floor. This time, he bent and retrieved it. Chloe watched it turn dim in his hands. He ran a fingertip over the vane. “And if I … will you still…” The expression in his eyes was one she couldn’t bear to see reflected; she turned to face him. “Will you help me keep them?”
She breathed out his name on her exhale, reaching out to wrap her fingers tight around his wrist. “Of course.”
“I should warn you, I’m … not certain it’s possible.”
“I’ll tell you what I tell Trixie: trying your hardest and failing isn’t the same thing as failing because you didn’t try at all.” She gestured toward the walk-in shower with her chin. “You can make the obvious joke if you want.”
His leer was exaggerated enough to coax a laugh from her. “Why, Detective. If you wanted me naked, you had only to ask.”
“And wet, too, you minx. Insatiable, really.”
Chloe crossed her arms over her chest, lips twitching.
“You needn’t ruin that outfit, you know. Messy business, this.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Are you finished?”
He made a face. “Oh, very well, you spoilsport.” He shrugged out of his shirt, businesslike, and stepped out of his trousers a moment later. His boxer-briefs he left on, not that she could see much of his body behind the half-tucked cover of his wings. Wings.
While Lucifer showered, Chloe retreated to the main house and, after several wrong turns, retrieved the first aid kit she’d used the day before. She also changed out of one of her pretty outfits into a pair of cutoff shorts and a t-shirt she didn’t mind ruining; it wasn’t like she had scrubs lying around for this surgery she definitely wasn’t qualified to perform. By the time she returned to the poolhouse, Lucifer was already outside beside the pool, waiting for her. He’d brought two bottles of whiskey, no glasses. He said, “Less chance of breaking things out here,” and swigged deeply from one of them. “And less difficulty cleaning up afterward.”
“I don’t suppose you have vodka? To disinfect the wounds,” she added, when it was clear he meant to joke.
“I’m the Devil, Detective. I don’t get infections.”
“Mmm. Like you don’t bleed when you get shot? Like you’re not vulnerable when I’m standing right here?”
He paused, tucked his wings against his back, and returned a few moments later with something clear and labeled in Russian. “I think you’d be better off drinking it,” he said. “But needs must.”
If she’d been any less worried about maintaining a clear head, she might’ve done so.
“And you’ll need this. Even vulnerable, I’m not certain I wish to entrust surgery to a kitchen utensil.”
He extended his hand. One of Maze’s curved knives rested against his palm, vicious even in stillness.
She didn’t ask. She didn’t want to hear the answer. But she knew. She knew the last place this knife had been.
“I do not need to warn you what this blade can do,” he said.
She nodded, accepting the knife. Softly, she said, “This is … going to hurt, Lucifer.”
“No more than it does already.” He gulped from his whiskey bottle again and knelt, facing away from her, toward the gently rippling water of the pool. “At least this torment will have an end.”
She rested her hand between his shoulder blades—between his wings. Wings. He shifted, stilled, and she stroked the soft down before she could think better of it. When he bowed his head, the pale line of his neck was so soft, so vulnerable, it brought tears to her eyes. “Lucifer,” she whispered. “You don’t deserve this.”
He said nothing. After a few moments, she took a deep breath and continued, “I’m going to start with the bullets. They need to come out, but the skin’s grown over some of them. I—I think I’ll do them all first.”
“Very well.” His neck remained curved, his gaze fixed on the tile. “Mind—mind the primaries—the most prominent feathers. I will attempt to control it, but should I become … distressed, they can be sharp.”
She paused, fingers hovering over the bone closest to his shoulder blades—wingblades? She knew about as much about bird wings as anyone who’d ever been sucked into a Sunday nature show marathon, and for all she knew, angel wings were something altogether different. Obviously, they were. She didn’t think bird feathers were ever sharp. “Enough to cut?”
He nodded. “Sharper than any mortal weapon, certainly.”
Weapon. Purpose given wings. She closed her eyes briefly. Oh, Lucifer.
Clearing her throat, she said aloud, “So, no big deal then.”
His shoulders twitched with something close enough to a laugh that she considered it a win. “I imagine you’ve noticed they do not particularly obey the laws of physics.”
“You mean physics doesn’t explain disappearing wings and shirts that don’t rip—or have, um … wing holes?”
“Physics of the Incredible Hulk, then. Everything rips but, miraculously, even though they’re torn, the pants grow large enough to keep things Saturday-morning-cartoon-friendly.”
Lucifer chortled. “As good an explanation as any.” He glanced over his shoulder. “If I’m in no state to say so later, thank you, Det—Chloe.”
“Thank me by not skewering me with your killer wings.”
“I suggest you stay behind me.” He lowered himself even further, bracing his upper body with palms pressed flat to the ground. “Use the blade, if you must; it can stop me.”
It can hurt me, he didn’t have to say. It can kill me.
Pierce would have used it. Without hesitation. Tears welled in her eyes, and she blinked them away.
She put her hand between his wings again, pressing reassurance against his spine because she didn’t have words to express the sudden welling of emotion his level of trust pulled from her. “Okay,” she said, more for herself than for him.
With questing fingertips, she found the first hard knot of an embedded bullet. Lucifer didn’t even wince when she touched the skin with Maze’s blade, and it parted as easily as a dull knife slid through softened butter. She had to use the point to dislodge the bullet from the bone—tweezers weren’t going to cut it. Lucifer, please. Get better. He began breathing audibly by the time she removed the fourth bullet; at eight, she wasn’t sure where his ragged breathing ended and hers began. Get better. Belatedly, she realized she was whispering, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” under her breath like a mantra. Sweat trickled down her back even though the night air was cool. Her hands were hot with his blood. Get better. Get better. Get better.
He wasn’t going to be the bird with the broken neck, the bloody feathers, lying in a heap at her feet. Not if she had a say.
“One more,” she said, hoarse, as if at the end of an unexpected marathon she hadn’t trained for. Lucifer’s every breath was a whine now, low and desperate, more like an injured animal backed into a corner than a man. Or an angel. Or the Devil. He clenched his hands and she half-expected his nails to scrape the tile into rubble.
Of course, the final bullet was the worst of the lot. It hadn’t quite broken the bone, but it was near enough as to make little difference. She hiccuped a sob and only then realized she was weeping, that the dampness on her face wasn’t sweat. For his sake, she hoped his healing had only been hampered by the trapped mortal bullets, because a wound like this one would certainly have required an actual surgeon’s touch if it had happened to human bones.
“Detective,” he wheezed, sounding even worse than she had. “Are you all right?”
She swallowed the unhinged laugh that started to escape. “All right left the building somewhere around bullet three.”
He breathed a barely-voiced ha. “So late?”
She inhaled deeply in a vain attempt to steady herself. “I’m afraid taking out this last bullet’s going to finish the job it started of breaking your bone.”
“What is it your offspring always says? ‘Better out than in’?”
This time her laughter came out on a sob. “She says that about farting. And burping. And throwing up.”
Lucifer snorted and sat back on his heels a little, shoulders still trembling. “I didn’t say it wasn’t vile. Only apropos.”
He roared when she finally managed to dig the bullet from the bone, and she witnessed the weapons of his wings firsthand as they sliced forward, cutting through the tile around them effortlessly. Hunched over, he spoke something in a language she didn’t understand, but that made her want to prostrate herself at his feet or flee. It was beautiful. It was terrifying. She dropped Maze’s blade, wrapped an arm around his waist from behind and pressed the side of her face against his back. His skin was hot, too hot, like sitting too close to a bonfire.
“Enough,” he whispered. Pleaded. “Chloe, enough.”
His body trembled, the muscles of his back and shoulders clenching and unclenching uncontrollably, almost like he was seizing. Beneath her forearm, the muscles of his abdomen were like iron.
He extracted himself carefully from her grip, moving slowly, turning to face her. His dark hair curled on his forehead, making him look both younger and ageless, like something an Italian Master might have carved in marble. She wondered if da Vinci or Michaelangelo or whoever could’ve captured the strength in his bearing and the fragility of the tears caught in his eyelashes at the same time. “I didn’t mean—are you all right?”
She glanced down at her blood-sticky hands; tufts of white feather clung to her fingers. Ella must have taken the dove with her; probably buried it with respect and a prayer to something—Someone—she believed in but didn’t know, the way Chloe now knew, was real. She shuddered, feeling cold in her bones, cold like she’d never imagined she could feel. Some distant part of her knew she should speak, should reassure him that she was fine, that she was coping, that she could handle this, but her teeth chattered, and the words she wanted to speak were frozen somewhere in her churning gut.
He staggered upright. His wings were bleeding, fresh red staining the luminescent white, and she knew she should disinfect the wounds. She knew she should stitch them.
For one heartbreaking, heartbroken instant, she thought he meant to leave her there, but he bent at the waist and put warm hands under her forearms, urging her to rise. The cold felt worse when she stood, but his hands on her skin were so warm. “Come now, darling, let’s get you warm, shall we?”
Something was definitely weird because there wasn’t even a hint of a double entendre in his words. She managed one shuffling step forward, followed by a second. When it seemed like the third was going to be impossible, Lucifer scooped her up like it was effortless and crossed the terrace to the hot tubs. He eased her gently into the water, clothing and all.
And he didn’t make a boob joke.
Instead, he scrubbed the blood from her hands. Careful. Thorough. As if her clean hands were the most important thing in the world. Which was ridiculous. Because he was still bleeding.
His hands felt nice on her hands, though. She’d always liked his hands. Their elegance. Their strength. The tenderness in them he so rarely let anyone see.
The ice began to crack, then thaw, and finally, she swallowed, her throat dry, and was able to croak, “What—what was that? That sound?”
“Divinity,” he said. “The Word, capitalized. Fiat lux.” He lifted his gaze to meet hers. “Forgive me. I haven’t … Spoken in … in a very long time.”
He didn’t need to tell her that it was Spoken, capitalized.
“What … what did you say?”
“Something for my Father’s ears. A demand. A command.” Lucifer shook his head, eyes filled with shadows and longing and hate. “Something He’ll ignore.”
He’d ceased washing her hands, but he still held them; she curved her fingers around his and squeezed tight. “Hell of a baby step,” she said, falling just short of the humor she was reaching for.
He lifted her hand; she let him. The kiss he pressed to her skin warmed her in a way the water had failed to do. If a moment falls in the forest…
Before this one could end on did it even really happen, Chloe rose, water cascading around her. Lucifer dropped her hand and raised querying brows. She captured his face between her palms, gently enough that he could back away if he wanted to. “I’m glad I know,” she said. “Okay? I’m glad. Even with … everything. All the Universe turned upside down metaphysical brain sparky my boyfriend has wings and a Devil face and a disturbing penchant for innuendo and bad Dad jokes everything. You deserve to be listened to. You … deserve to be cared about. And I want that.”
His lips moved, forming, she thought, the trembling first syllable of boyfriend without sound. Chloe’s eyes were burning again; when she blinked, more tears rolled down her cheeks. “This—whatever this is. Whatever this … whatever we keep almost being. It’s a ham and mushroom omelette absolutely oozing with cheese.”
She felt him swallow. “It’s what you desire?”
Now he sounded like the marathon runner at mile 26 with the finish line so unexpectedly in sight.
“Yes.” Her voice cracked. “Yes. But only if you … if you want the same breakfast. Really want it. For you. Not for me. I don’t know. If you want to eat together.”
If she’d doubted he was the angel who’d once lit the heavens, the way he smiled at her would have removed every trace of uncertainty.
She wasn’t sure who moved first, who initiated. Perhaps they moved in sync, the way they so often did when they were walking, interrogating, playing verbal tennis; the way she could step forward without hesitation, knowing he was already reaching to open the door. His lips tasted of smoky scotch and salt—tears, they were tears—and they burned and they soothed and it was too much and not enough, not even close to enough. Her hands were in his hair like they’d belonged there all along, and he groaned deep in his throat as he reached for her, drew her flush against him. He groaned, and he kissed her, and she kissed him, and if it was a sin to make the Devil, the angel who once shone brightest, sound like that, kiss like that, then to hell, to hell with repentance.
Chloe woke to a far-too-early alarm, given how late she’d stayed up the night before. To say nothing of the … revelations. And the surgery. And the kissing.
There’d been … quite a lot of kissing. And, if not for the … brain sparky everythingness of revelations-surgery-kissing, she supposed there might have been more. Instead, kissing had led to cuddling, had led to falling asleep nestled into Lucifer’s warm side while they spooned on the couch, watching some movie whose plot she couldn’t begin to guess at.
That she’d woken alone in her own bed told her the vague, hazy impression she had of being carried was probably based in reality. Her phone buzzed, but instead of a message from Lucifer, Oliver had texted her a list of clothing items. As she stared, coffee-deprived and still a little overwhelmed, at the screen, images began rolling in. A white, sleeveless silk blouse; a pale-mint chiffon skirt; a cropped denim jacket. Chloe grimaced at the screen, but Oliver didn’t stop until he’d covered shoes, jewelry, purse, and assorted other accessories. He sent a picture of her, hair loose and wavy. He sent a freaking make-up artist’s cheat sheet.
On a sigh, she texted back Got it and put herself to work.
By the time she reached the poolhouse, coffee was ready, and breakfast was cooking. Lucifer glanced at her over his shoulder. “Good morning,” he greeted. “Sleep well?”
“You know, you could’ve left me on the couch.”
He waved this off with his spatula.
“And you?” she asked, trying not to sound tentative, hating it that she was waiting for the ‘shall we pretend this never happened, then?' she’d faced from him before when their moments happened a little too intensely. “How are you this morning?”
“I hadn’t realized how much they were troubling me,” he said, gesturing in the vague direction of his invisible, physics-defying wings. “One does adapt to the pain, rather. It’s … less, today. Than it was.” A few moments later, he finished what he was doing and approached the island carrying two plates. Two omelettes—ham and mushroom, oozing with cheese, unless she missed her mark. She touched the back of his hand as he set hers down.
His smile was soft, tender. Maybe, she thought, also a little tentative, too. She tilted her chin up, pursing her lips ever so slightly in invitation. Lucifer dropped a kiss on her waiting mouth. Also soft. Also tender. Not tentative. She smiled against him and pulled back just enough to whisper, “I meant the breakfast thing figuratively, you know.”
His plate clinked as he set it down next to hers. With his freed hand, he cupped the back of her neck and captured her lips in a more insistent kiss. When he pulled away, Chloe wasn’t sure if a minute or an hour had passed. She definitely knew she was going to have to revisit the makeup artist cheat sheet.
“Now, eat up, Detective,” Lucifer said. That he sounded at least as breathless as she felt thrilled her. Made her want to dive in again. And again after that.
Chloe cleared her throat. It did nothing to banish the kiss-drunk giddiness, but at least she found her words again. “What with the, um, unexpected surgery and everything, we didn’t exactly get our story straight.”
Lucifer swallowed his mouthful of food and raised a querying brow. “What story is that?”
She had the most ridiculous urge to stick her tongue out at him. With no small amount of effort, she managed not to act on it. “What you’re going to call me instead of ‘Detective,’ for one.”
Lucifer chuckled. “Do you have a preference?”
“I suppose it’s asking a lot to go with my name?”
The shake of Lucifer’s head was barely more than a twitch, but she registered it all the same. “Not that,” he said, with a hint of seriousness that somehow belied the smile he still smiled and the light that still shone in his eyes. “Names are … names are something else.”
“I’ve always wondered. About all the nicknames.”
He shrugged, obviously discomfited. “Names have meaning.”
“I know. Mine’s ‘green shoot’ or ‘blooming’ or something.”
This time, Lucifer shook his head more firmly. “Not like that. My Father—It’s complicated.”
She grabbed his hand and squeezed it. For a moment, he fixed his gaze on their joined hands. He said, “Lucifer was not my name. It was a … title, of sorts. A statement. Perhaps a kind of promise.”
She remembered a dark bar, a man smoking at his piano with a smile on his lips and frustration in the line of his shoulders. “You said it was God-given.”
“So it was. In its way.” He sighed. She thought he might try to pull his hand away, but instead, he only settled forward, resting his elbows on the kitchen island. With his other hand, he toyed absently with his fork. “No doubt you’ve noticed a … certain similarity in angelic naming practices? Quite a lot of -iels and -aels and -els?”
Chloe worried at her bottom lip with her teeth. “Like Amenadiel?”
“Yes, yes. Azrael, Gabriel, Raphael. Even Michael, the self-righteous git. Can’t fault the bastard for his commitment to a theme.”
“No. Dear old Dad, of course. The original.” Lucifer snorted. “Originel, perhaps.”
Chloe shook her head, confused.
Grimacing, Lucifer used the edge of his fork to cut his omelette into ever-smaller bites without eating any of them. Just as she was giving up on him explaining further, he murmured, “‘Of God.’ That’s what they mean. Those -iels and -aels- and -els. Our names gave us purpose and reminded us Who that purpose was in service of.”
Very softly, Chloe asked, “And you, um, you had one of … those names?”
“Makes ‘blooming green shoot’ a treat, I assure you.” Still, he didn’t pull his hand away. He dropped his fork in a clatter and pushed his hand through his hair, disturbing the carefully smoothed strands. She lifted the hand she still held and kissed the back of it; startled, he blinked up at her.
“It doesn’t matter what your father called you,” she said. “It’s not your name anymore.”
“Lucifer was mine. Not His.” His voice was hardly louder than a whisper, but the fierceness in it left no doubt about his feelings. “The light before He banished me to darkness. The light of the stars. The light of the bloody truth.”
She watched as he visibly composed himself, his armor slipping piece by piece back into position. With lightness she wished for rather than felt, she asked, “Is this why you never call my daughter by her name, either?”
Whether it worked or whether he merely accepted the line she threw to him, Lucifer smiled faintly. “Your daughter’s name is Beatrice—with all its long and storied tradition. Trixie is a—”
“Hooker’s name, yes. Not entirely sure Dan’s ever forgiven you for that one.”
“She is clever and kind and conniving and innocent; ‘bringer of joy’ suits her. You oughtn’t diminutize all that she is.”
It was Chloe’s turn to blink. Whatever her expression told him, it was enough to bring a slight flush to his cheeks. He gazed down at his plate as if it held the secrets of the universe.
She said, “I guess if anyone balks at ‘Detective’ you can always shoot them one of your withering glares.”
“And inform them I’ll not be cowed by a corrupt organization’s poor decision-making,” Lucifer agreed, sounding only slightly strangled. “But enough of that. Your breakfast will have gone cold.”
Chloe recognized the changed subject of a desperate man and squeezed his hand once more for reassurance before reaching for her fork.
Looking around, she found it impossible to believe this entire production had sprung up virtually overnight. Oliver appeared as if summoned from thin air. Narrowing her eyes, she examined him more closely, but if he was actually some kind of supernatural entity, she couldn’t see the proof of it. Today, he wore a different pale grey suit; this one had faint lines of teal woven through the fabric that matched his shirt exactly. The pocket square and bowtie were turquoise. He glanced up from his phone and offered her a brief smile of greeting. “I approve,” he said. “Both on time and dressed exactly as directed. Perhaps there’s hope for you yet.”
He turned his attention to Lucifer, and Chloe realized she was pleased—genuinely pleased—she’d passed muster. She ran a hand down the front of her skirt and then reached up to twitch her necklace into place.
As if seeing her through eyes in the back of his head—does he actually have eyes in the back of his head?—Oliver said, “Fidgeting ruins the illusion, Ms. Decker.”
“And Bianca?” Lucifer asked.
“Running late, of course,” Oliver supplied. “Says it’s traffic, but if she hasn’t been circling the block waiting for you two to arrive first so she could make an entrance, I’ll forego bespoke for the rest of the week.”
“By all means then,” Lucifer drawled, “we must oblige her.” He turned toward Chloe and added, “But not you, darling. Ollie’ll run you along to your trailer.” His expression shifted toward the lascivious. “Our trailer, rather. I do hope you don’t mind.”
“Oh, very good, sir,” Oliver said. “Ms. Bennett won’t like that at all.”
Lucifer smiled his hunter’s smile.
When they were out of Lucifer’s earshot—or at least Chloe thought they were; another thing she should ask him about—she said, “What’s that about?”
For this, Oliver actually slid his phone into his pocket and gave her his full attention. “Ahh, yes. You’re not to know. Ms. Bennett’s rather notorious about the order of precedence. Pecking order, you know. Establishing dominance.”
“Yeah, I get it,” Chloe said. “What’s that got to do with me? I couldn’t care less.”
Oliver’s sigh sounded incredibly put-upon. “You have been out of the game for a long time, Ms. Decker. If you give someone like Bianca Bennett an inch, she’ll gladly hit you with her car, run you over, and take the whole mile.” He stopped, so Chloe stopped, and he put a hand on her shoulder. “Understand this: she hates you already. For being younger, more beautiful, more … attached to Mr. Morningstar. She hates you because I refuse to work with her; yes, she’s asked. She hates you because you are all the things naturally she spends thousands of dollars a month achieving by hook or by crook. She will smile. She will clutch your arm and tell you you’re ‘Fabulous, darling.’ And behind your back, she will do everything in her power to make your life miserable.”
“Great. So much for female friendship.”
“Bianca does not do friendship, Ms. Decker. Certainly not with her competition.”
Chloe shook her head. “I’m really not—”
Oliver’s pale gaze turned flinty. “Ms. Decker? There’s no need to create enemies, surely.”
She bit her lip and let herself imagine what it would be like to hear someone in her position sounding less than enthused about something that looked like incredible fortune from the outside looking in. “Message received, Oliver. Won’t happen again.”
“I suppose you miss it?”
She tried for a smile but only got part way through the attempt. “I was really good at my job.”
He patted her shoulder. “I daresay you’ll shine in this one as well.”
Oliver gave her a brief tour around base camp, though he assured her she was only to pick up a phone should she want for anything. Smiling and nodding, she knew that was a directive she’d definitely be breaking—if she wanted to do any behind the scenes detective work whatsoever.
Like the house and the car and the wardrobe and the literally everything, the trailer took luxurious to the next level. At first, Chloe didn’t even realize it was a trailer; it was a far cry from the little white cubicles she’d felt so privileged to have her name on when she was eighteen and starry-eyed. It was a far cry even from the slightly nicer private cubicles her mother had sometimes warranted on the higher-budget pictures she’d been involved with. When Oliver reached for the door and waved her inside, Chloe laughed.
Because it was ridiculous. Of course it was ridiculous.
She wondered if the whole damned thing was part of an elaborate Lucifer-funded scheme to prove to her how completely and utterly not cheap he was—as if she’d ever, no matter what role she’d played with that jewelry salesman, thought it for an instant. Because the so-called trailer was more like a house on wheels, complete with luxurious finishes, a wall full of beautifully-lit liquor, and multiple rooms.
Shaking her head, Chloe passed through a comfortable sitting room, a mobile kitchen fit for a chef, and a makeup and costume room of her very own. The closed door at the end opened on a beautifully-decorated room containing an actual bed. With actual linens. No cot or makeshift-bed-slash-couch to be seen. Bouquets filled the room with a scent like something blended by a master perfumier. As an obvious joke, her bedside table contained a vast bowl of only green M&Ms and a bottle of water with a French label so cold the condensation dripped down the side in rivulets.
Oliver, trailing her, smiled. “You are refreshing, Ms. Decker. Perhaps I’ve worked too long with clients who expect at minimum what elicits such wonder from you.”
She didn’t bother hiding that wonderment. “He doesn’t really do subtle, does he?”
“Not in my experience.” Oliver chuckled. “Though one might say it’s part of his charm.”
“One might,” she agreed.
After glancing at his phone and uttering a final admonition about calling should she need anything, Oliver disappeared again, leaving her to her portable little palace. In the kitchen, it took her fifteen minutes to figure out how to brew a cup of coffee, mostly because there were about six different brewing methods available. She chose the simplest one. Or what she thought was the simplest one. While her drink was percolating, she searched high and low for anything resembling a script. A call-sheet. Anything. All to no avail.
Lucifer, she suspected, was having far too much fun keeping her in the dark.
God, she hoped she wasn’t in for another hot tub.
When her trailer door opened, Chloe expected Lucifer, maybe Oliver. Even Bianca. She did not expect Maze to swagger in like she owned the place. “Not bad,” Maze said as if it hadn’t been more than a month since they’d so much as spoken, as if Chloe wasn’t now all too aware that Maze was an actual demon from actual Hell. To say nothing of the colossal breakdown in communication and friendship that had preceded that silence. “He stock this place with anything but whiskey?”
“Do you know?” Chloe asked.
Maze raised her eyebrows and stared too long without blinking. “I know a lot of things, Decker.”
“Do you … do you know what I know?”
Maze blew out an irritated breath. “Is this gonna be a thing?”
“You’re a … an actual demon. Like, from Hell.”
“It’s gonna be a thing.” Maze’s head dropped back, and she scowled at the ceiling. “You’re not screaming, so I’m gonna guess you’re at least maybe okay with this? ‘Cause I can leave.”
“Please don’t,” Chloe insisted. “Maze, I—you know I’ve really mis—”
Maze’s expression turned disgusted in a heartbeat. Exaggeratedly. And not quite fast enough to mask the flash of genuine gratitude in her dark eyes. “You and the feelings, Decker. It never stops.”
Chloe chuckled and blinked to keep the prickle of tears from sending her back to her makeup artist cheat sheet for the third time. “Yeah, well, they’ve had time to build up without you around to stomp and scowl and curse every time I so much as hint at having them.”
The coffeemaker beeped, and Chloe fetched two mugs. She filled hers with coffee and Maze’s with liquor—with a splash of coffee to maintain the facade. “So. Um. Not to look a gift demon in the mouth, but … what brings you, Maze?”
Maze took a hefty swig and said, “Going back to being a bodyguard for a bit.”
Chloe made a face. “Really? For Lucifer?”
Maze’s brow wrinkled. “Never again.”
Maze downed the rest of her cup in a gulp—like Devil, like demon—and said, “You, dumbass. And. You know, the kid. When she gets back.”
Chloe frowned. “Lucifer put you up to this?”
Maze’s expression said that if she’d had a knife handy, she’d probably have stabbed something with it. A wall. Maybe the table. Probably not Chloe. “I’m not here for him. I don’t care what Linda—no. Fuck Lucifer. I just—she’s been helping me think about some … things. And I—” The expression definitely shifted to something in the ballpark of root canal without anesthetic. “Fuck it, Decker. I fucked up. This is something I’m good at. It’s something you need right now. And I—I really don’t want to get all—ugh—but I owe you. ‘Cause I pulled some shit I’m not proud of and I just … I—”
“Maze,” Chloe interrupted. “I still don’t know everything about … the things you were dealing with. I’d like to get back to a place where, you know, we can talk about that? But you don’t have to do this. Really. I’m sure we’ll be fine.”
Maze’s snort of derision was unmistakable. “Sure, Decker. I’ll believe that when you can take me in a fight. In the dark. Without a gun. Hell, blindfolded.” She crossed her arms over her chest. “There’s shit out there you haven’t imagined ‘cause you’ve never had a nightmare that even came close. And there are things out there that’d fuck with you just ‘cause they’re carrying some millennia-long grudge against Lucifer.” She shook her head. “Pride’s his thing. That part’s always been true. So, he won’t tell you what I’m about to tell you because his pride doesn’t even let him think it. You’re with him? You’re a target. And ‘cause he gives a shit about you? That target glows in the fucking dark. Fuck, he’s died twice since he met you, and I’m not sure how many do-overs his Dad’s willing to throw his way.”
Chloe was glad she was already sitting because she was pretty sure her legs wouldn’t have kept her upright otherwise. Maze, apparently unaware of the bomb she’d so casually dropped, got up and refilled her mug, this time without the drop of coffee. Chloe spread her shaking hands flat against the table; even then, she couldn’t stop the tremors. Died, died, died, wailed her brain like her cruiser’s siren. Died, died, died.
Malcolm sneering. Trixie hiding and the certainty that she wasn’t going to make it and Trixie wasn’t going to make it and Lucifer, so brave, so stupid, so unperturbed confronting Malcolm without so much as a hitch in his smooth, brave, stupid voice. Died, died, died.
“I thought he killed you.”
“Oh, he did. I got better.”
Chloe pushed the heels of her hands against her eyes. He never lies to me. The blood on the warehouse floor—so much of it. The blood on Lucifer’s shirt. Of course it was never a bulletproof vest and a blood pack. Of course it wasn’t.
She’d never believed that story. Not really.
Died, died, died.
She was about to ask Maze about the … the second time—what the hell, what the hell, what the actual hell—when a sudden loud thump made Chloe jump and sent Maze to the door, knives in hand like they’d sprung straight from her flesh. Talk of targets glowing in the dark aside, Chloe emerged from the trailer only a step behind Maze. The knives were gone. Chloe looked around for bodies.
Instead, she found only another bird, small and white, that had obviously hit the side of the trailer and found out all about physics the hard way. Chloe pushed past Maze, dropping to her knees so forcefully she felt her skin tear. This bird was still alive, trembling and bloody, one wing very obviously broken, too terrified or in pain to resist as Chloe gathered it gently in her hands. "No," she whispered. "No, no, no."
“Decker, it’s just a bird.”
“Go find the medic. They’ll have one. They—”
But it was too late. The tiny, racing heart stilled. The dark eye looking at her so desperately for help went glassy. With a final tremor, the bird died.
Died, died, died.
Chloe swallowed hard. She held out the small body and Maze, without complaining, took it. Glancing down at her knees, Chloe saw they were bleeding, and that she’d torn her probably stupidly expensive skirt. She ran her hands down the fabric, leaving bloodstains. Not fidgeting. Not an illusion.
And from behind her, she heard footsteps.
The newcomer’s gaze swept her from head to heel, obviously missing nothing.
“Darling,” cried Bianca in a tone Chloe the Detective wouldn’t have believed for a single moment, and which made Chloe the Actress wonder just how Bianca managed to land A-list roles if she couldn’t act her way through this, “oh, don’t you just look fabulous?”
Behind her, at Lucifer’s side, Oliver tilted his head and lifted his eyebrows in a very, very loud I told you so.
“What a pleasure,” Bianca continued, oblivious. Her forehead didn’t move. Neither did her eyebrows. “Oh, we’ll have such fun, won’t we?”
Behind Chloe, Maze snorted.
Behind Bianca, Lucifer smirked.
Chloe, channeling one part Ella and one part the faux-Candy she’d once played, threw her arms wide and hugged Bianca hard enough to unbalance her. “It’s going to be amazing,” Chloe agreed enthusiastically. “I just can’t wait!”
Died, died, died, went the siren.
She hoped her hands were still bloody. She hoped she stained Bianca’s pristine white shirt beyond saving.
Died. Died. Died.
Chapter 10: Chapter 10
Wow. Okay. So sorry about the delay on this one. A perfect storm of busy work, reaching the end of my buffer, a 2-week visit with ariaadagio, Lucifer dropping (and needing to be rewatched several times), S4 hyperfixation, and a sick husband conspired against me. Thank you so much for your patience! (And I am replying to comments, I promise! I'm behind by a couple of chapters, but I appreciate them! I don't take them for granted--it's just been a bit slow-going! <3)
Also, obviously this story is now AU. I'm so glad so many of you are still willing to go along for the non-canon-compliant ride!
In the ten seconds after Chloe stepped out of Bianca’s heavily perfumed orbit, Lucifer ushered Chloe into the trailer, Maze following behind. The door closed on Oliver murmuring soothing words to Bianca as he guided her away. Chloe glanced at Maze; the dead bird’s head lolled. Her stomach heaved, and she turned away, rushing to the sink to scrub her hands clean. When she was sure no fleck of blood or down remained, she sank into the seat at the table she’d so recently vacated.
“Detective?” Lucifer asked, his voice low and insistent. “What’s happened?”
Chloe reached for words, but they flitted away before she could grasp them. Maze said, “Bird hit the side of the trailer. Decker … freaked out.”
“A bird?” Lucifer sounded puzzled. He crouched down to Chloe’s level, tipping her face up with the gentle pressure of a finger beneath her chin. “Detective?”
She swallowed. “It’s the second time. They were both white. The … feathers. The blood.”
A shadow crossed Lucifer’s brow, followed by an expression of such tender concern it nearly brought tears to Chloe’s eyes all over again. “Forgive the presumption,” he said gently, “but have you … spoken to anyone? About what you saw? At the loft?”
She shook her head. “Who could I possibly talk to?”
His gesture took in both Maze and himself.
“It’s … I’m sorry. It’s not the same. Kinda missing the whole human perspective.”
“Haven’t you talked to Linda?” Maze asked abruptly. “Lucifer, seriously? Didn’t you—”
His glare silenced her. By the time he looked at Chloe again, his eyes had gone soft. “Dr. Linda … knows.”
Chloe blinked. When her tears escaped, she didn’t bother trying to mask them. “About everything?”
Lucifer’s lips twisted into a smile both sad and self-deprecating. “She is my therapist, Detective.”
Chloe curled her hands into fists; the bite of manicured nails meeting palm brought her back to herself enough to ask, “How long?”
Lucifer did not look away. He didn’t deflect. “Halloween. 2016.”
“That long.” It wasn’t a question. And then, of course, she remembered. Begging Maze to take Trixie trick-or-treating because … the sniper. Wes Williams, hellbent on self-destruction. Lucifer, standing in front of those bullets, taunting death, asking for it. Her certainty, her absolute certainty that at any moment she’d hear not a high-caliber bullet shearing through stone or cardboard or glass, but impacting flesh. Lucifer, telling her she couldn’t possibly understand. The hurt of it. The hurt in it. “Oh, God. And then you said you thought you’d broken your therapist. You meant it literally.”
Lucifer nodded as though he’d been silently skipping along the trail of her realizations right alongside her.
“Yeah,” Maze agreed. “Bad.” She grimaced down at her handful of feathers. “Look, Decker, what d’you want me to do with this?”
Chloe raised pleading eyes to Lucifer. He said, “Please, Mazikeen. Take it away.”
Instead of protesting—his please must have counted for something—Maze disappeared, closing the door quietly as she went. Lucifer took one of Chloe’s hands in both of his. “Where was the other?”
Chloe inhaled a deep, shuddering breath. “I know. It’s stupid. It’s just a bird. Sorry.”
His thumb stroked her wrist. “That’s not what I asked.”
“At our—at the house. I guess it hit my window. Ella was there. She … dealt with it.”
He nodded again, solemn. “I’ve not had a chance to visit Dr. Linda since—for a time. I thought I might ask her to come here. If she does—would you like to speak with her?” Without releasing her hand, he shrugged. “An offer without pressure, I assure you.”
Chloe nodded before she could second-guess herself. Lucifer lifted her hand and pressed a kiss, chaste and soothing, to the back of it. “Very well,” he said. A faint smile, impish enough to bring an answering smile to her lips, played about his mouth. “Then, darling, perhaps it’s time we begin this charade in earnest.”
When they first entered the room, Chloe thought it looked more like a scene from Lux than any movie set she’d ever been on. Upbeat music played; people mingled with drinks or food in hand. That the drinks were predominantly coffee-based didn’t seem to have affected the overall party mood. Still, Chloe felt some tension in the room—likely due to the sudden and inexplicable leap from preproduction to talent already on set.
Lucifer had rescued as many crew members as possible from the sudden collapse of Carlos’s film. All the better to determine whether someone involved with the production had engineered the man’s death, and simple enough, Lucifer assured her, to hire people suddenly out of work without raising too many red flags. Chloe expected the pool to narrow further as soon as Dan could collect and finish combing through the production list of Felix’s film, searching for overlap. For the time being, Chloe could only wait, and smile, and flash the ring she wore on her left hand as if it were the most important thing in her life.
Though it had been ages since she’d last been on a film set, Chloe knew just enough about the workings of the industry—stopping her mother from sharing ‘juicy’ gossip was all but impossible—to recognize a few notables; clearly, Lucifer hadn’t gone to the dregs to finish outfitting his crew. Bianca, she noticed, was not yet present.
Though Lucifer didn’t announce himself, heads began turning the moment he opened the door. Chloe, having switched out her blood-stained and torn outfit for another—one of several hanging in the trailer’s closet, helpfully packaged and labeled in individual garment bags in a hand so neat and elegant she knew it belonged to Oliver—threaded her arm through his and smiled up at him, trying to project loving engagement and not tremulous not-quite-lovers taking their first steps toward … something.
Lucifer’s eyes crinkled briefly at the corners, a private smile for her alone. Then, with his brightest center-of-attention grin, he swept his free arm wide and said, “Hello, film crew. So glad you’ve cleared your schedules. Do feel free to take your coffee Irish. I am.”
A titter of laughter ran through the crowd, dispelling even the hint of discomfort or confusion. Chloe squeezed his arm, and Lucifer bent his head, bringing his ear close to her lips. “There is … actually a script, right?”
“Of course, darling.” He smirked. “Hasn’t your agent delivered it?”
“You’re enjoying this.”
His widened eyes and lifted brows all but screamed his delight. Glee, utter and absolute. This, too, she had to admit was infectious, and though she rolled her eyes, her smile was genuine.
Unhurriedly guiding them through the crowd, Lucifer introduced Chloe to everyone they passed. Frequently, he included a tidbit about the person’s life, something personal. With each new introduction, Chloe’s admiration deepened. She had a good memory—she had to, given the requirements of her job—but it was nothing to his. He never paused to recollect a person’s name, or the names of relevant children or partners. He spoke effortlessly of past projects, of their previous acquaintance, of the last time they’d graced Lux.
On every face, she saw gratitude, appreciation, warmth—much as she’d always seen on the faces of those he interacted with at the precinct. And though his mojo didn’t affect her, looking at the people surrounding them now, she suspected most of them weren’t being pulled by unseen forces, either.
Her heart clenched in her chest, and whatever expression she wore, it seemed to strike Lucifer momentarily speechless when he turned to address her. Using her grip on his arm as leverage, she rose on her toes and kissed him. Softly, easily.
His surprise was doubly charming because it was so authentic. “Det—darling, what on Earth was that for? There are no cameras—”
Shaking her head, she offered him a shy smile. “I wanted to. I hope that’s—”
His hand cupped the back of her head and drew her closer before she could speak the word okay. Chloe had never done hard drugs and didn’t even like the feeling of being legitimately drunk, but kissing Lucifer was heady stuff. She'd grown so used to dealing with the shortness of his attention span; suddenly being the sole focus of all his attention was … a lot. A good a lot. A bordering on addictive a lot. Walking heroin. Mojo or no mojo.
They parted, flushed and breathless—at least he seemed as affected as she was; that counted for something—when a throat audibly cleared behind them. Bianca’s cheeks were equally flushed, but Chloe was pretty sure her raised color was rooted in a completely different sentiment. Lucifer didn’t immediately turn; he certainly didn’t bother looking the least bit perturbed or ashamed. His eyes remained fixed on hers like she was the sole stable star in a shifting sky. Sweeping his thumb over her cheekbone, he dropped a tiny kiss on the end of her nose.
“Down to business, then,” Lucifer said, turning to face the gaping audience and ignoring Bianca’s petulant expression and crossed arms. He wrapped an arm around Chloe’s waist that felt protective and supportive instead of possessive. “Ollie, darling, if you wouldn’t mind wrangling the PAs?”
It took Chloe one slugline and exactly a sentence of action to realize what Lucifer had done.
EXT. CITY OF ANGELS — SUNSET BLVD — NIGHT (NIGHT ONE)
A jet-black vintage sports car sails down Sunset, cruising through the adult Disneyland that is nighttime Los Angeles.
Leaning on one elbow, Lucifer shifted closer to her and whispered conspiratorially, “You know what they say, darling. Write what you know.”
She pushed her fingertips against her forehead and counted to five. “Confidentiality is a thing.”
“Of course,” he agreed, waving a dismissive hand. “I’ve changed the names.” He grinned. “Except mine, obviously. Would hardly make sense otherwise.”
“And I’ve cut all the boring bits. You’re welcome. No one wants to watch you do paperwork or wait days for lab results.”
She closed her eyes. “Which case?”
“Oh, this and that. Quite a lot of dear Delilah; she’d appreciate it, I think.” His voice held the echo of old rage, old grief. “Had to work in your shooting me, though.”
When she opened her eyes to glower at him, she found several interested parties watching—and doubtless eavesdropping on—their conversation. “You’re not … playing yourself, are you?”
His expression shifted toward the unremittingly giddy. “Who else, darling? I’m quite accomplished. Stepped in for Will a time or two, I’ll have you know. My Hamlet’s, if you’ll pardon the pun, divine.” His eyes narrowed. “Completely derailed more than one production of Doctor Faustus, as well. Buying souls. Honestly. Absurd. Who’d want them?”
“Mm-hmm,” Chloe said. “Of course, you have. Can we—?” She hooked a thumb at the door. Hurt chased his glee away; he inclined his head, rose, and offered her a hand in one swift motion.
Once safely in the hallway, Lucifer’s demeanor shifted. His shoulders rounded, and he ducked his head. She doubted a single person in the room they’d just left had ever seen even a hint of what he showed her so truthfully. So vulnerably. “Have I misstepped, Detective?”
Stealing a page from Trixie’s playbook, Chloe flung her arms around his waist and squeezed him tightly. He remained stiff, clearly startled. “It’s brilliant,” she whispered against his chest. “Lucifer, it’s brilliant.”
“Ella already thinks you’re a method actor. If I spin it the same way, no one will question me if I question them. It will be in character. Part of the prep. Weird, maybe, but not worth thinking twice about.”
She stepped back in time to see a pleased smile play about his lips. “I wished to keep calling you Detective. And, I suppose, to … allow you to remain yourself.” He cupped a hand to her cheek. “Albeit with a different name.”
“I hope you don’t have me dressed like a Lux dancer.”
He looked so momentarily affronted, she loosed a breath of laughter.
“Of course not! You’d hardly be yourself without oversized coats and sensible shoes.”
“Lucifer, I—” She paused. “Thank you. I … I love this idea.”
“Think nothing of it,” he insisted, his expression toeing the adorable line of flustered.
“But did you honestly give me an ex-wife, played by Bianca?”
“Danielle,” Lucifer drawled, drawing the word to thrice its length.
“And no Trixie?”
Lucifer shook his head, expression grave. “Never work with children or dogs. They’ll upstage you every time.”
Not one to dawdle at the best of times, Lucifer had already drawn up a shooting schedule on the sleepless side of aggressive. Chloe said nothing; the more hours they spent on set, the more likely it was they’d draw out any potential murderers lurking in the dark—if murderers were truly what they were looking for at all. Lucifer’s words about the Lieutenant haunted the back of her mind; she poked at them over and over from different angles like a tongue probing an aching tooth even though it hurt.
She was holding her script without having read a single word and wondering what, exactly, he’d meant by she may be family when Maze cleared her throat loud enough to say she’d already tried once or twice to get Chloe’s attention.
“Company,” Maze said. “Says she’s a makeup artist. Want me to stick around? Haven’t used my knives yet today.”
“Maze. Please don’t terrify the crew.” Raising her voice, Chloe called, “Come in. Sorry.”
Maze huffed and left, muttering under her breath.
Chloe was pretty damn sure Maze and the boredom of set life were not going to get along.
A young woman sidled in, dragging a large, wheeled train case, her gaze fixed over her shoulder. Her eyes were still huge when she finally turned to face Chloe.
“Hi, um. She’s scary.” She twitched her chin in the direction Maze had just gone. “She was joking about the knives, right?”
Chloe offered a bolstering smile and said nothing. The young woman’s hair was pulled up in a high bun that looked effortless and probably took an hour to get just right. Streaks of teal and turquoise broke up the black strands; the turquoise matched her eye color exactly. As if advertising her skills on her own canvas, her face was flawless in a way Chloe couldn’t have replicated with twice as many cosmetics or a whole book of step-by-step instructions. It probably involved … contouring. Which she didn’t even understand, let alone know how to do.
Rising, Chloe put down the script and extended her hand. “I’m Chloe,” she said. “And you are?”
Instead of accepting Chloe’s hand, the young woman covered her mouth. “Fuck—shit—sorry. I’m Misti. Fuck. I shouldn’t say fuck in front of the talent. Can we start over again?”
Chloe nodded, smiling.
“Hi, Ms. Decker,” Misti said, offering her own handshake. “I’m Misti. I’ll be your personal hair and makeup artist for the duration of the shoot. I’m here to do some test shots and hopefully not be killed by your scary ninja assassin bodyguard.”
“I heard that!” called Maze from the kitchen.
“Hi.” Chloe shook Misti’s hand firmly. “Until last week, I was a cop. Pretty sure there’s no invective under the sun I haven’t heard at least twice. Don’t worry about it.”
Misti grinned, her teeth a shocking white against her blood-red lips. “It’s my first time being a principal’s personal artist. Not that I’m not good. I am good. I’m actually really good.”
Chloe chuckled as she returned to her seat, gesturing for Misti to make herself at home. “Did you owe Lucifer a favor?”
Misti shook her head and opened her train case, pulling out palettes of makeup and more brushes than Chloe could even begin to imagine uses for. “No, ma’am. My boss—you know, at the agency? Anyway. She was on the, um,” she lowered her voice, “set of Bianca Bennett’s last movie? They wanted her back again, but she was like, ‘No, thanks,’ and ran off to Bermuda or something.” She shuddered. “Not that I can blame her. Real corpses aren’t usual in our line of work.”
“Was she there when—well. You know.”
Wide-eyed, Misti nodded. “She had like, just touched up his makeup. Apparently, he was always really sweaty. Kept her powder brush busy a lot.” She paused, pulling her bottom lip between her teeth. “It’s okay if you’re sweaty. I didn’t mean for it to sound like I was dissing sweaty people. Hyperhidrosis is a thing.”
“Must’ve been weird.” Chloe hesitated. “Did she … tell you anything about it? I just—Bianca was there, you know, and I don’t want to say or do something that might upset her.”
Shrugging helplessly, Misti said, “Not really. She got real churchy all of a sudden, though. Said she didn’t want to face the Almighty with that kind of expression on her face if he took her like that.”
“Right,” said Chloe. “So no mentioning heart attacks. Got it.”
Chloe scanned through several pages of her script while Misti finished setting up. She snorted as she read through the first scene they’d be shooting the next day. “‘Lucifer Morningstar’?” she said aloud, to herself. “Is that a stage name or something?”
He’d been so irritating. So … weird.
So frustratingly smug.
Lucifer’s memory really landed on the uncanny side of eidetic.
“Did they actually fire you?” Misti asked.
Chloe glanced up. “They did.”
“That’s what I said.”
Misti’s expression said she clearly didn’t understand or approve. “And then your fiance just like—finances a movie? In a week?”
Chloe laughed. “Yeah, well, Lucifer doesn’t do anything by halves. Especially when someone—the LAPD in this case—injures his pride.”
“Must be nice to have that kind of cash lying around.” Misti huffed a disbelieving breath. “And his name’s … really Lucifer? Like the Devil?”
“Exactly like that,” Chloe said. Misti giggled and rolled her eyes without malice. “He’s not into souls, though. In case you were wondering. And goats are totally off-limits.”
Misti snorted a laugh before peering closely at Chloe’s face. Like a chemist preparing a volatile solution, she began blending drops of color on a small palette. They all looked the same to her, but Misti was so focused and serious Chloe didn’t dare say so. Instead, she said, “Sorry it’s not a more exciting role. Not exactly Avatar.”
“I have to admit, I am super jealous of whoever gets to do the Devil face effect,” Misti agreed. “‘Cause wow. But at least you get shot?” Her hand jerked to an abrupt halt. “I mean, your character. Like. Not actually you. Obviously.”
“I got it.”
“Have you, though?” Misti lifted her shoulders in a shrug half discomfort and half question. “Been shot?”
Chloe only realized she’d raised her hand to her left shoulder when Misti dropped her gaze and said, “Sorry. I shouldn’t have pried.”
“Cops get shot. Not as much as tv and film would have you believe, but it happens.” She forced a smile. “Lucifer may have taken some creative license here and there, but I did get shot the first case we worked together. And the last one.”
Misti’s smile remained apologetic. Then, with a ghost of humor, she added, “At least you’ll be able to tell me how accurate my effects are.”
After Misti had gone, Chloe disobeyed Oliver’s command to merely pick up the phone and call if she needed anything. A crowd milled around the base camp, though she didn’t see Lucifer, Oliver, or Bianca. At craft services, she helped herself to a sandwich and let someone make her a coffee—her favorite; apparently, Lucifer had made sure the place was well-stocked with almond milk and sugar-free caramel syrup.
“I love the guy—seriously, I owe him big time for the massive save with that sold-out doll for Didi last Christmas—but Bianca? She’s one bad picture away from has-been and frigging cursed to boot.”
It took Chloe a moment to put the right name to the face. Jesus Mendoza—“No relation,” Lucifer had purred in her ear—was the gaffer. He’d definitely come from the last film crew. Fighting the urge to pull him aside for questioning, Chloe set her coffee down on one of the provided picnic tables and leaned against it, gazing into the middle distance as though thinking about something else entirely, and began slowly and methodically eating her sandwich.
Whatever his conversation partner said, Mendoza snorted derisively in response. “I heard she’s in big to some asshole who … strings to get her into her … of pics after the whole … thing.”
Chloe tilted her head, trying to filter out the rest of the voices to catch Mendoza’s words. One woman, in particular, was complaining at volume about her last date; Chloe felt far more sympathy for the guy.
“—always bitches about the lighting. Like it’s my fault she’s on the wrong side of … hasn’t eaten a proper … only so much filters can do, you know? Ah, fuck—”
“You should watch your carbs,” said Bianca, directly into Chloe’s ear, loud enough to make her jump halfway out of her skin. The woman was lucky she wasn’t carrying a piece. “The camera really does add ten pounds.”
“I have a fast metabolism,” Chloe said. She took a large, spiteful bite of her sandwich and smiled around the crumbs.
If Chloe had to guess, Bianca was working with the intentions ‘sympathetic and helpful’ for this little performance. The amount of Botox and filler rendered Bianca’s attempt at expression somewhat comical. Still, she was still their best connection between Carlos and Felix, and alienating her, much as she might want to, would only be counterproductive. Chloe lowered her sandwich with no small amount of regret. “But you’re right. I’ve kinda forgotten what all this is like.”
Like a shark sensing blood in the water, Bianca drew nearer. She clucked her tongue and shook her head. “Of course, you have, hun.”
“And I’m sorry about earlier. It was just—that bird died, you know? I guess I was in shock.”
In the back of her mind, Ella cautioned, Dial it back, Decker.
Chloe leaned against the picnic table, keeping her body language open and unthreatening, already pretty damn sure Bianca wouldn’t be able to resist taking advantage.
She wasn’t disappointed.
“I can always be available for extra rehearsal, you know.” Bianca’s smile could give Maze’s knives a run for their money in the sharpness department. Chloe nodded as if grateful. “It’s been a long time since Hot Tub High School.” Bianca laughed as if she’d made a joke. “Not exactly Oscar-worthy, that one.”
“Oh,” said Chloe, “I don’t know. It’s one of Lucifer’s favorites. He’s told me more than once.” She shrugged, keeping her eyes wide and guileless. “And you know he never lies.”
Bianca was standing close enough that Chloe could see her bite down on the inside of her cheek. “I’m sure Lucifer’s well-aware of your various … assets, of course.” She slipped a hand down her side, highlighting her slenderness. And her fake cleavage. “I’m just not sure acting—real acting—is one of them.”
“And you’d like to help me?”
Bianca’s dagger smile slid sideways into a smirk as she inclined her head.
Chloe refused to let it cut. She tapped her bottom lip thoughtfully with one fingertip, gazing over Bianca’s shoulder toward the trailer. “I’ll have to check with Lucifer. We’re kinda”—she batted her eyelashes; not too much—“doing our own one-on-one rehearsals already.”
“She means sex,” Lucifer added, reaching for Chloe’s abandoned sandwich and taking a bite that had no right looking so sexual. It was a sandwich, for God’s sake. He wasn’t immune to crumbs. And yet.
This time, Bianca was the one to nearly jump out of her skin, leaving Chloe feeling more than a little vindicated.
And a little flushed. Maybe … tingly. A bit tingly? Very warm, in any case.
If it wouldn’t have undone all Misti’s hard work, she could probably have gone for a shower. A cold one.
Neither the time nor the place, Decker.
Instead, Chloe leaned up against Lucifer, bumping her shoulder against his side.
“Bianca,” Lucifer said in the careful, pointed drawl that usually preceded a request for someone to divulge their desires, “what possible reason might you have to sabotage this production before it’s even properly begun?”
Here, finally, a hint of genuine emotion skittered across Bianca’s face. Panic. Maybe a bit of fear. “I haven’t. I wouldn’t. I—you know how much this means to me.”
“Do I?” Lucifer mused, lips half-curved, eyes unblinking. “I wonder.”
The remains of Bianca’s false bravado crumbled. “I need this.”
“Then I suggest you stop sowing seeds of discontent, my dear, and focus on your performance. I daresay no one’s applied the term ‘Oscar-worthy’ to your work of late.” Lucifer’s eyes narrowed. One eyebrow twitched. Bianca flinched as if he’d landed a physical blow. “Anton’s looking for you.”
Without grace, Bianca turned on one very high heel and departed the way she’d come.
“Just how good is your hearing?”
“Good enough,” Lucifer said, still grim about the eyes. He returned her sandwich with an insistence she recognized immediately.
She lifted her brows. “I know I don’t need to lose weight, Lucifer. Her pettiness doesn’t bother me.” She dropped her voice to a whisper. “But if she’s involved—if she knows anything—we can’t afford to piss her off.”
Lucifer said nothing.
“Hey,” she said, rising and facing him. Finally, he blinked, returning his attention to her face and not Bianca’s retreating back. “You don’t need to defend my honor. You know I can take care of myself. And Bianca Bennett’s got nothing compared to some of those post-Palmetto guys.”
“Of course, Detective,” he replied, not quite meeting her eyes. “Of course.”
That evening, whilst the Detective was otherwise occupied—she’d mentioned something about a long bath he didn’t dare let himself linger on the imagery of—Lucifer stood in the pool house, gazing out at the twilight and the patio now devoid of any remaining traces of his blood or feathers, his phone in hand. Three times, his thumb lingered over the dial symbol; three times, he did not press it.
After a lengthy internal argument he’d never have admitted to, he made the call. It rang twice, and just as he thought it might go straight to voicemail, he was greeted by a brisk hello. A tad breathless; he’d wager she’d run to answer it.
“Doctor Linda,” Lucifer said. “Hel—”
“Absentee Patient,” she replied, truncating his greeting. “I’ve left messages, Lucifer.”
“Yes, about that—”
“Many, many messages.”
Lucifer cleared his throat. “Indeed. You see—”
“Oh, don’t worry. Maze told me you weren’t dead—”
“—And also told me you killed Cain?” From experience, Lucifer was well aware the present tone was not a pleased one. “But, no big deal, don’t see why you’d want to bring that up. Y’know. With your therapist.”
Lucifer held his tongue, waiting for a continuation of the diatribe. When, after a moment or two, it did not come, he said, “But Mazikeen … did not tell you about the Detective?”
Linda’s audible inhale sounded like a slap. “Is Chloe all right? Did something happen?”
“Yes.” Lucifer drew the word to thrice its length. “She … saw. My face. My Devil face.”
“Your Devil face is back?”
Though Lucifer wasn’t one for regrets, as such, he rather wished he hadn’t pulled quite so far away in the month he’d spent dreading the Detective’s response. “Yes,” he repeated. “You see, Doctor—”
Linda’s voice crept up a few notes. “Lucifer, how—”
“If I might finish?”
He could very nearly hear Linda close her eyes and count to five slowly in her head; she’s certainly cautioned him to take the same measure time and again. When she spoke, her voice was even, professional. He imagined her sitting in a chair with her knees crossed, pen poised to draw obscure conclusions from his words. “Go on.”
He outlined the events of the past several weeks in bullet points—short, sweet, as dispassionate as he could manage. She made encouraging noises when he paused. When he said, “And that’s where we are at the moment, Doctor. An elaborate undercover scheme at the behest of a nephil FBI agent masquerading as a police lieutenant, and … desirous of a … house call, as it were.”
Just as he’d begun to fear he’d broken her—again—she said, “That … is a lot to unpack.”
“Indeed.” He glanced across the the dimly lit garden. Behind gauzy curtains, the Detective’s shadow moved. He looked away, unwilling to intrude on her privacy even unintentionally. “You see, Doctor, it’s the Detective I’m worried about.”
“Chloe, yes.” Linda sighed. “Because she knows, now.”
“I didn’t intend to withhold the information—”
“I understand, Lucifer. You were processing things of your own.”
His first instinct was to protest this, but he … could not. He’d let his wings fester in agony that didn’t abate, no matter how far his distance from the Detective, for more than a month. He’d avoided the Detective, Mazikeen, Doctor Linda, Lux. He’d drunk his way through his entire supply of whiskey and most of Lux’s as well—every time it was delivered. Whole days had vanished as he’d waited for the axe to fall. More.
Bloody hell, she sounded as though she’d spoken his name more than once.
“You’ve said you’re not at the penthouse. Send me your address. I’ll be there in an hour.”
“Less,” she insisted—immovable and invaluable—“if the traffic behaves.”
Linda placed the bottle of wine she’d been about to open in the trunk of her car, put the convertible’s top down hoping the cool air would help her focus, set her GPS, and drove as much over the speed limit as traffic and her unwillingness to get pulled over would allow.
Much as Lucifer liked to burst into her office at all hours of the day and night as though he were her only client, a number of high profile individuals slunk into her office behind huge, dark sunglasses or beneath ineffective baseball caps to sit on her couch. And yet, she wasn’t certain any of them lived at addresses quite as prestigious as the one Lucifer had texted her.
As Linda passed through multiple layers of security—guards at the gate, a very muscular valet, a housekeeper who asked bizarrely intimate questions about things she’d have blushed to answer had they been asked by anyone other than a person in Lucifer’s employ—she tried not to think too hard about Dante’s vision of concentric circles leading to a pit so cold it burned.
After being led through a series of rooms so decadent it was laughable, Linda stepped outside again. The air was scented with frangipani and jasmine; she paused to inhale deeply. At the apex, she caught a whiff of cigarette smoke and turned. A red circle brightened and then fell; she heard Lucifer grind the cigarette into the tiles.
When he stepped into the light, she took in details, running the swift diagnostic that had become second nature to her over the years. He was in his shirtsleeves; they were rolled to the elbow, casual instead of distraught. The cigarette was a little troubling; he smoked less now. Partly, she knew, because Chloe was not a fan of either the scent or the smoke. He didn’t appear to be working his way through a bottle of liquor though; always a plus. And he smiled when he approached; a real smile, not of the dangerous or false ones that didn’t touch his eyes.
For someone—for Lucifer—who’d been through as much as he’d said over the phone (and she was certain he hadn’t been as thorough as she might want; he’d certainly glossed over the weeks between Cain’s death and Chloe’s acceptance of him), he seemed good. Surprisingly. Perhaps a little alarmingly.
And then he was beside her, sweeping his hand wide in welcome and leading her into the poolhouse.
“And Chloe’s in the main house?”
“The child will be with her at the weekend.” Lucifer frowned, eyes narrowing. “I thought it best to give them privacy.”
Linda hmmed and took the wingback chair, leaving the couch opposite for Lucifer. The twitch in his forehead confirmed her suspicion that the chair was his preferred seat. His hesitation lasted only a moment; she doubted anyone else would have seen it for what it was. He sat straight-backed on the couch, as if it were a throne, as if he’d never wanted to sit anywhere else in the entirety of his long life.
Uncomfortable then, despite the smiling. Linda smiled her encouragement, but asked, “Did you ask Chloe what she wanted?”
“I—” Color rose in his cheeks. “Of course, she’d much rather—”
Linda raised her eyebrows.
“No,” Lucifer admitted. “I did not.”
She waited. Lucifer glanced away from her, reached toward one wrist as though intending to fidget with a cuff, and froze when he realized his sleeves were rolled.
“They’re only questions, Lucifer. Not accusations.”
He blinked as if this hadn’t occurred to him. Which, knowing him as she did, was entirely likely, of course. “The Detective is…” He crossed his legs, kicking one foot three times before stilling it again. “I did not want to place her in an awkward position.”
“You see, she’s…” he began. The fingers of one hand tapped an uneven rhythm against the back of the other. “Really, Doctor, it’s quite unsettling.”
“Her reaction.” He gestured vaguely at his face. “Her non-reaction.”
“What were you expecting, Lucifer?”
“Well, I—” He leapt to his feet as though some invisible whip had cracked against his shoulders and driven him upright. “You can’t pretend you don’t know.”
Linda tilted her head.
“Infuriating,” he muttered, just loud enough for her to hear. She bit the edge of her tongue to keep from chuckling. He paced to the open patio doors, paused, and paced back again, all coiled energy with no outlet; familiar enough territory. At least this was confusion and not anger; Linda didn’t fear for the integrity of the walls. “I’m the Devil, Doctor.”
When he turned a pained look her way, Linda relented. “Lucifer, did you want her to reject you?”
“Of course not!” said his words. How could she not? said his expression.
“No?” She leaned forward, gaze fixed on him. “In a very honest moment, you—”
“I never lie.”
Linda amended, “In a very vulnerable moment, you told me you wanted her to choose you. That your desire was for her to choose you. And then, when it appeared she might, you deflected. You settled for something less than your true desire and pretended”—she held up a hand to prevent the protest on his lips—“you pretended you’d never wanted what you and I both know you wanted. Why?”
“This isn’t why I asked you to come. The Detective—”
“You’ve missed a lot of sessions, Lucifer.”
Linda held her breath, watching the lightning-quick play of emotions on his face. Hoping. So, so many times, she’d seen him fight his way to this very threshold, often resisting every step. So, so many times, she’d seen him put a toe over the line, a foot.
And so, so many times, she’d watched him fling himself backward again, walls up, telling himself the same lies he’d been telling himself all his life—so comforting and familiar, he’d thoroughly convinced himself of their truth.
Much as she wanted to, she couldn’t do the work for him. Had never been able to do the work for him. So she held her breath; she witnessed; she waited.
“Samael,” he said. If a word could drip blood, she thought this name, torn from this throat, would have. Three syllables should not have been able to hold so much. Hate, she recognized. And pain. Hurt, but hurt of the kind she most often associated with confused children who couldn’t understand what they’d done to deserve parental wrath, parental rejection.
She held her breath. Witnessed. Waited.
“It means poison. Venom. Of God.”
“Poison.” Lucifer touched his lips as if even speaking the word brought the taste of it to his tongue. “I’ve siblings called Might and Grace and Helper and Friend and Light of God.” His gaze turned desperate, guilty, angry, grieved. “As if Uriel, always skulking about in the shadows, knew the first bloody thing about light with all his bloody obfuscations and stratagems.”
Lucifer drew closer; close enough for Linda to observe the trembling in his hands, the tension in his shoulders. “Light was mine. It was always mine. When Dear Old Dad said ‘Let there be light,’ it certainly wasn’t Uriel jumping to do His bidding. But I’m the poison.”
Much as Linda wanted to ask, to press—Lucifer never spoke of his dead brother; she desperately wanted to help him process what had happened there—she held her tongue. Lucifer wasn’t finished; interrupting him now was as likely to shut him up completely as encourage him to continue.
She did wonder, though, if Uriel, in the shadows, had resented his name—his lie of a name, his name that meant Light of but not Light Bringer—as much as Lucifer resented poisonous Samael. Lucifer inhaled raggedly, dragging his hands through his hair. Linda didn’t stop him when he stalked into the kitchen and came back with a bottle of whiskey. Two glasses. Of course. Her eyes stung. Because even when he was very nearly as distraught as she’d ever seen him, he wasn’t going to deny someone he, yes, cared about his hospitality.
Poison, she thought in the vague direction of He Who’d Done the Naming. What were You thinking?
Lucifer downed his first glass—and it was a glass, nearly full—before Linda’d even taken a sip of hers. His second, also full, he held between his elegant hands with the tenderness of someone holding an injured bird. With his eyes fixed on the bottom of the tumbler of amber liquid, he said softly, almost to himself, “I will ruin this. I will poison it. It’s what I do. It’s what I was made for.”
The stinging in her eyes escalated to a full-on burn that had nothing to do with the alcohol. When he lifted his gaze to her, his eyes held such ancient and fathomless despair that a small, answering cry of grief was pulled unwillingly from her throat. “You see?” he asked. “And I am selfish, Doctor. I cannot make myself leave her alone.”
Linda shook her head. “No, Lucifer,” she managed. “No. That’s not the answer. You know that. You tried that. You broke her heart.”
He blinked again, clearly startled. In an instant, the unknowable being sitting on the couch opposite her was a man again. Hurt, afraid, desperate. “I’d hardly say—”
“You don’t lie, Lucifer,” Linda said before he could finish.
Lucifer drank the second glass of whiskey. He poured a third. He didn’t meet her eyes.
Linda inhaled, counting to five and then to ten. After an equally long exhale, she said, “If you want—if you truly desire—a relationship with Chloe, you’ve got to swallow a few hard truths.”
“And I,” he began tentatively, “must … figure these out? You’ll … help?”
Linda huffed a quiet laugh. “I’m going to tell you a few things. As your friend. And as Chloe’s friend.”
“Her confidence is—”
“I’m not revealing secrets, Lucifer. I’m recounting my observations. What you do with those is up to you.” Linda took a fortifying sip of alcohol. The burn was good. It was really good. No wonder Lucifer carried around a flask of the stuff. “And when I’m finished, I’m going to talk to Chloe for a bit. As her friend. With this bottle of wine.”
Lucifer nodded. A good sign. Usually.
Better than jumping to conclusions and fleeing with a handful of gummy bears, anyway.
She said, “Healthy relationships begin with trust and honesty and communication. I was worried, Lucifer. Before. That you’d begin something without having laid your cards on the table. Chloe deserved to know, really know, about you. Warts and all.”
“I haven’t any warts.”
His affront warmed her; it was so typically Lucifer. Instead of laughing or rising to the bait of his humor, she continued, “You’re upset because you couldn’t control the narrative. She was given proof of your existence—your existence as the Devil, with all that entails about Heaven and Hell and God and angels, fallen or otherwise—without your express permission.”
His spine stiffened but he didn’t retort. Also good. Usually. Unless it presaged outbursts that put, say, angelic fists through unsuspecting and very breakable walls. These walls contained an alarming amount of glass.
“You were the Lord of Hell. King, even.”
Now, she thought, it was his turn to watch. To wait. His unblinking gaze had always been unsettling, but she was familiar with it now.
“You broke with your father because He wanted you to serve. He wanted to control you. And since then, since that rejection—you of Him and He of you—you have striven for control. Of Hell—”
“Of Lux, your little kingdom on Earth.”
Linda paused, knowing her next words would set the tone of … any number of her future interactions with him. “But you enjoy working with Chloe. Where you’re partners. Where you sometimes—perhaps even often—let her call the shots. Have control.”
His eyes flashed red, and though her heartbeat skipped once and took off running, Linda forced herself to remain still, open, available.
“It’s a good thing, Lucifer. It’s a really good thing.”
He scoffed but didn’t look away, and his eyes remained dark.
“In a healthy relationship—”
“Are we talking sex here, Doctor?” His smirk rang hollow. It didn’t touch his eyes. “Because we both know I’m quite a happy switch.”
She sat back in her chair, crossing her legs. Perhaps she couldn’t stare quite as long as he could, but she could damned well try. “Yes,” she said. “That’s something you like to pretend, isn’t it?” He drank again, to hide his discomfort this time. She knew all about that, too. “Tell me, Lucifer—do the partners who desire your submission ever truly have it? You give them the fantasy, of course; I think you delight in the fantasy. You let them tie you up and play at pain or discipline or control. They don’t know how easily you could snap those bonds, do they? How, unless Chloe should happen by, you’re utterly invulnerable. They’re human. You’re the Devil. And you never forget it. Hell, you know what they want because you looked in their eyes and they told you. You’re always in control.”
She braced herself, but Lucifer didn’t move. Didn’t react. Didn’t lift his chin or try to meet her eyes or sneer or smirk.
“Except with Chloe,” she said.
He shook his head. Sharply. “We’ve not—”
“Except with Chloe.” She softened her voice. Softened her expression. “Maybe your father deliberately put her in your path. Maybe He didn’t. But I know this much, Lucifer. I know she’s the only person in the world immune to you and, thus, the only person in the world capable of seeing you as you truly are.”
“So, as your friend, and as Chloe’s friend, listen to what she says. Watch what she does. Judge her by those metrics. Please.” She raised her glass of whiskey, took a page from his book, and drank it down in a potent gulp. “She didn’t reject your true face. What did she say?”
Somewhere behind her, a clock ticked. Outside, night birds called to one another mournfully. Lucifer hardly seemed to breathe. He put his still-full tumbler on the table in front of him. To the table, the glass, her knees, he said, “That I do not lie to her. And she does not run from me.” As if these words had pulled a log loose from the dam, a torrent of sentences followed. “She kissed my hand when it—when it was … red. She offered to cut off my wings. She agreed to help when I said—when I said I’d much prefer to keep them.” He raised his face. His cheeks were damp. “She tended me, Doctor. Me. As if I were worthy of that grace. As if weren’t the—the monster I know I—As if she—as if I—”
As suddenly as they’d come, his words dried up. This time, Linda did not push him. Did not prod or pry or pull at his loose threads. She didn’t bother wiping away the hot tracks of her own tears, either. She said, “Then maybe she’s already made herself abundantly clear.”
His head dropped into his hands as if the string holding it up had been abruptly snipped.
The clock ticked. The birds called. “Would you like me to stay, Lucifer?”
He shook his head without looking up.
Still, she moved slowly in case he changed his mind. She tucked the decorative pillow back in place on the chair. She took her empty glass to the kitchen. She retrieved her bottle of wine. Lucifer remained on the couch, perfectly still, head still cradled in his hands.
“Doctor,” he called as she stood poised on his threshold with one foot already out the door. “I wish to … release you from your vows.”
She frowned, turning to face him. His color was high, but otherwise he seemed in control of himself again. “I’m not sure what you—”
His lips turned up, still haunted by lingering pain, but wry now. More like himself. “Doctor-patient confidentiality.” The sudden tenderness in his expression threatened to make her tears rise again. “I do not wish to have secrets between the Det—between Chloe and me. If she asks questions you’d not answer because the response was something spoken in session, please … please hold nothing back. Not with her.” A little smile. A little laugh, self-deprecating. So very Lucifer. Trying so very hard. “I think you know me better than I know myself, Linda. I do … want to know. I have never … I have desired nothing as much as I desire … doing right by her. Please. Please help me.”
Linda pressed her hand to her heart; the pressure of her fingertips did little to ease the sudden and constricting pain that clutched at her. She bent at the waist, putting her bottle of wine on the floor. Then she turned, crossed the room, and took Lucifer’s face between her palms. She kissed him gently on his forehead, the way his parents should have every damned day. Or whatever passed for a day, when you were celestial beings who lived outside of time. His dark eyes shone with unshed tears, with truth. This close, every delightful freckle stood clear on his face. She said, “Lucifer Morningstar, I am so proud of you.”
He wanted to deflect this, she knew. He didn’t. She pressed another kiss to his brow. “There’s a saying, an adage. ‘The dose makes the poison.’”
Lucifer nodded minutely, not pulling away from her hands. “Paracelsus, if you must know. ‘All things are poison, and nothing is without poison, the dosage alone makes it so a thing is not a poison.’ I was quite fond of the bloke, really.”
“Of course you were.” Linda smiled. “I’m no toxicologist, Lucifer, but I don’t think your dose has been poisonous for a very long time.”
He made a face. “Is this your bloody when angels fall they also rise rubbish again?”
“No,” she said. “This is your therapist assuring you that, even with the occasional stumbles and steps backward”—he snorted—“you’ve had genuine breakthroughs, leading to genuine growth. And she’s proud of you.”
She dropped her hands from his face, but only so she could wrap her arms around him in a hug. After only a heartbeat of hesitation, he returned the gesture. Her tears left two darker spots on the shoulder of his shirt. He patted her back after a longer embrace than she’d thought he’d allow, and she released him. She sniffled before fixing a look of mock sternness on her face. “But I’m charging you double for all those missed appointments.”
“Triple,” he replied, resting his fingers on the back of her hand. “Or I’m at risk of taking you for granted, and we wouldn’t want that.”
Lucifer woke knowing something was awry, but uncertain what. His room was still dark; sunrise hours away, yet. He’d tangled himself in his sheets; a nightmare he could not remember. Falling, perhaps. Or landing. Or bloody hands clutching a knife made to destroy. He thought, perhaps, the dream had woken him. A moment later, the Detective’s voice calling his name brought him fully and abruptly awake, heart racing.
“Det—Detective? H-how can I help?” he asked, pulling himself upright even as he cursed the thickness of his words, their sluggishness.
“Shh,” she whispered. “I didn’t mean to wake you.” She paused before shuffling a few steps forward. Her knees hit the side of his bed. “No, that’s a lie. I did. I did want you to wake up.”
“Shall I—the light—”
“No, no,” she insisted. “No, it’s okay. I … I should let you get back to sleep.”
“I’m afraid it’s rather too late for that.” He attempted to untangle the sheets without revealing how complicated a task it was. He’d seen nooses tied more loosely. “May I—shall I get you—”
“Shh,” she repeated. “Can I sit? Here? With you?”
At a momentary loss for words, he patted the bed.
“I talked to Linda.” She inhaled, breath unsteady. “I talked to Linda a lot. She’s sleeping, now. I tried to sleep. I couldn’t. I thought maybe—” She reached for his hand, twining their fingers together. His bloody emotions were so bloody unsettled, he felt the knot in his throat form again. “Maze said you died for me. Twice. I thought she was exaggerating. Linda says she wasn’t.”
“Mazikeen spoke the truth.”
“Okay. Okay. That’s a lot. Okay.”
His heart ached at the tears he heard in her voice.
“I would do it again.”
The hitch in her inhale was nearly a sob. “But why? Lucifer, I’m—I’m small and I’m mortal and I’m—I’m not worth it.”
His own words flung back at him, desperate and confused, struck him like a blade. A Hell-forged one. Without releasing her hand, he shifted to face her. The darkness left shadows on her face, but he didn’t need light to see how wet her face was, how tightly she squeezed her eyes shut, how she fruitlessly bit her lips to keep from weeping. “But you—you are—” He lifted their joined hands and pressed them against his chest, where no scar remained to tell the story of the knife he’d taken to protect her, where he’d once stopped his own heart to keep her from going where he couldn’t follow. “My Father said, ‘Let there be light,’ and I lit the stars. Then he banished me to the dark. And I stayed there. I’d snatch moments, swift-burning as candles and just as dim, or as bright and blinding as fireworks.” He took a shuddering breath. “Delilah was murdered. And there you were, grim and glowing in the darkness of my club, so bright I could hardly bear looking at you. It had been so long, you see, since I’d properly seen the stars. I did not even recognize Polaris.”
“But I’m not,” she insisted. “I’m not a star. I’m not a light. I’m just me. I make mistakes. I’m not this … this perfect … I’m not … I can’t—I can’t save you, Lucifer.”
“No,” he agreed. “No, you cannot. And perhaps I—perhaps I thought you could, once. But that was my mistake. My misunderstanding.”
He shifted a little closer; she closed the distance, until her side was flush with his. “You make me want to stay,” he said. “Even when it’s … difficult. Even when it hurts. I-I’ve never wanted to stay, before. I’ve never wanted to be equal.”
She stilled against him. “Equal?”
“Is that not what partnership is?” He hesitated. “Is that not what we are? Partners?”
She was silent so long he wondered if she mightn’t have fallen asleep sitting up. Her breath still trembled with tears, however, and she made no move to release his hand.
“Lucifer?” she finally asked, the timbre of her voice deep and drowsy and so intimate it sent his heart racing again. “Can I—p-please don’t make a joke—but can I stay here with you? Tonight? Just to—to sleep?”
“Chloe.” Lucifer was no stranger to prayer. No stranger to hymns and litanies, canticles and benedictions. Blasphemous as it was, he knew he’d never spoken to his Father with such devotion, not even when he’d been young and bright and desperate to please Him. “You need not ask.”
Her hair fell loose about her shoulders; it brushed his bare shoulder when she shook her head. “I do, actually.”
“Then please,” he said, tucking a lock of her fallen hair behind her ear. “Please stay. I should like nothing more.”
Note the change in rating O_O
And I'm so sorry this chapter took so long. I think I may have written and rewritten every sentence three times while Chloe and Lucifer made their extremely specific preferences known--only, of course, after I'd gotten them wrong first. *sigh*
Chloe drifted between waking and sleeping, comfortably toasty even though she’d forgone her favorite flannel pjs in favor of an Ollie-approved, sleeveless, knee-length nightgown. Her left arm clutched her pillow tightly against her torso.
Her warm pillow.
Her warm, breathing pillow.
In a heartbeat, the events of the previous evening came flooding back. Linda, wine, talking—Chloe tiptoeing out of her room and into the garden, waiting for common sense to click in and send her back to bed. Hearing Lucifer in the dark, whimpering, trapped in some dream or memory she couldn’t change but wanted, so desperately, to soothe. Clearing her throat. Telling herself she’d leave if he didn’t wake.
Wanting him to wake. Wanting him to speak. Wanting.
They’d fallen asleep facing each other, clasped hands their only point of contact. While they slept, Chloe had curled around him the way she sometimes curled around her daughter when Trixie had nightmares and climbed into bed with her. The way Chloe had curled around her dead-eyed, dry-eyed mother in those endless hours of shock after the officer—Chloe couldn’t even remember who, now; not a name, not a single distinguishing characteristic—had come to the door so late and said, Penny. Chloe. I— and started crying.
Dan tended to overheat—which never, somehow, stopped him from stealing all the blankets, but curtailed sleeping close. Pierce, when he’d slept at all, hadn’t been much for cuddling, either. She’d told herself—like she’d told herself so many damned things to make that relationship work—she didn’t mind. That it was nice, even, having her side of the bed to herself. To wake to a quiet room because he’d already risen and left.
Chloe’s arm curved over Lucifer’s narrow waist; asleep, he held her hand between both of his, pressed against his chest, almost like he was praying. She opened her eyes to a pale expanse of skin no longer slashed by the ragged, crescent-shaped scars that had been the first horrified-cop clue indicating her smarmy, sexual-harassment-suit-waiting-to-happen, punishment of a “partner” was more than just a rich, entitled, perpetual pain in her ass.
He’d flinched from her touch. Flinched. Lucifer Morningstar, who faced murderers without hesitation, had flinched at her touch. (Because she noticed, she realized now. Because somehow, even with all his partners and all his experience, she’d been the first to notice. Because, standing naked before her, she saw only what hurt him, not what he could give her.) Then he’d fled, and her first thought had been no one held you when you had nightmares, did they?
Now, of course, only freckles marred the flawless skin of his back—even though she was pretty sure angels couldn’t get sun damage. Especially not the angel who’d created the sun. She wondered if he’d always had them; if he’d wanted them; if he’d created them the way he’d once created the whirls and swirls of all the lights in the universe, a tattoo of melanin instead of ink.
What she wanted was to kiss each one of them, mapping out imaginary constellations, tracing paths between galaxies like an intrepid explorer searching for home.
It was easy to imagine his sly smile, his raised eyebrow, his purred response of, “Now, now, Detective, no need to wonder which gravitational force these galaxies orbit.”
She bit the inside of her lip to keep from laughing. Helping Trixie with her solar system project had, it seemed, left an impression.
Not wanting to risk waking Lucifer by looking for a clock—she’d left her phone in her room, charging—she lingered, enjoying the moment she knew would have to end sooner rather than later. Given their shooting schedule, she’d meant to wake early. Certainly earlier than the amount of golden sunlight filtering into the room suggested.
For once, she ignored the not-so-quiet voice in the back of her head telling her to get up, get moving, go go go. Closing her eyes, she enjoyed feeling comforted by Lucifer’s closeness instead of doing all the comforting herself. Is that not what partnership is?
And then, just as she was falling back to sleep, her bladder insistently reminded her of its presence. For two or three endless minutes, she tried to convince it to wait. For two or three minutes, it protested. With a sigh, she began extricating her hand from Lucifer’s grip as gently as possible. He hummed drowsily, pulling her closer.
“Lucifer,” she whispered, close enough to his ear to stir his sleep-rumpled curls. “I need my hand back.”
He cracked one eye open, and the impish little smile tilting the corner of his mouth made her heartbeat stutter. “Mine,” he said.
She laughed and kissed his shoulder—one, two, three freckles in a triangle; the first of her constellations. “I promise I’ll bring it back.”
Lucifer kissed each of her fingertips before releasing her hand. He rolled onto his back and to his other side as she rose. “Please do.”
After finishing her ablutions and stealing a little of Lucifer’s toothpaste to finger-scrub her teeth, Chloe hesitated before returning to the bedroom. Want—nothing to do with Lucifer’s mojo and everything to do with how long they’d been dancing around each other—warred with duty, with expectation. She didn’t need a clock to tell her they were late. People were depending on them. They’d uncovered no clues about the maybe-maybe-not murders. This—all of this—it was so much and so—
She clutched the lip of the sink, staring herself down.
And she wanted.
Lucifer lay where she’d left him—chest bare; long, lean limbs impossibly relaxed, like a cat caught napping in a sunbeam; head tilted and eyes closed as he listened to whoever was speaking on the phone. Her fingers twitched at her sides; his hair was so ruffled it begged her to touch it, smooth it. He looked softer like this, gilded by the morning light streaming through the open windows.
Speaking into his phone, he said, “—Reschedule that bit, then. Can’t be helped.”
His smirk when he caught her staring was all too familiar.
He lifted a finger. “Triple everybody’s pay and do something nice for them on me, Ollie, my dear.” Lucifer’s smile widened into a grin and he chuckled at whatever Ollie replied. “I’d expect no less.”
“Lucifer, no,” Chloe hissed.
Lucifer, yes, he mouthed.
“Indeed. Until later.” He ended the call and tossed the phone to the end of the bed, forgotten, before turning the full weight of his gaze on Chloe.
And, oh, she wanted.
“Come back to bed, Detective.” He leaned against his ample supply of pillows, head resting in his cupped palms.
The pose mirrored the one he’d once set as her computer wallpaper. Minus the puppy.
And minus the outrage that had made the whole thing so frustrating to her then.
Same bare chest. Same come-hither expression.
Same stirring they didn’t have time to … stir.
“You promised,” he said, lips doing positively unholy things to the letter P.
She couldn’t have said what, exactly, tipped her off; something sensed rather than observed. A tiny quiver on one of his vowels, maybe, or too much blinking from someone who could demolish any competition in a staring contest without effort. He was so studiously projecting languid, she couldn’t help see the cracks in the facade. Behind his expression and the careless openness of his posture, he was preparing for rejection. Expecting it, even.
Her eyes stung. “Oh, Lucifer.”
His brow began to furrow. “Detective, are you—”
She mirrored his earlier gesture, holding up a finger. Lucifer fell silent at once, his eyes never leaving her face, and her breath caught.
No one—not Dan on their wedding day, not Pierce as he kneeled before her and proffered a ring box—no one had ever looked at her the way Lucifer looked at her. “And you always have,” she said aloud, though he didn’t have context, and she wasn’t going to explain.
Lucifer seemed to understand this. The mask he wore like a second skin—the bravado, the certainty of being found irresistible, the cocksure arrogance—fell away, leaving only her Lucifer—the vulnerable; devoted; maybe even a little afraid, even with a Devil face and angel wings, Lucifer—behind. Locking her eyes on his even though they burned with unshed tears, Chloe crossed the room. Sat on the edge of his bed, where the hollow in a pillow still showed where she’d slept. Breathed deeply. Wanted.
“I told you I’d bring it back.” She pulled her feet up, scooting closer, until her thigh touched his through the sheet still between them. She lifted her left hand, the hand he’d held all night, and set it softly against his beating heart. “Didn’t you believe me?”
He said nothing, but his breath hitched under her palm.
“Can I kiss you?” With her free hand, she touched his lips. “Here?”
He nodded a minuscule nod.
Instead of kissing him, she trailed her fingertip from his lips across his stubbled jaw, lingering at the point where jaw met neck. Then she touched his earlobe. “Here?”
He inhaled audibly. Nodded.
Feather-light, her touch drifted down the side of his neck. Her own breathing was heavier now, and she smiled because she’d done nothing more that touch—and barely that. “And here?” she asked, resting her fingers on the pulse point where neck joined clavicle.
He made a sound somewhere between a groan and a whimper. His head dropped back, sinking into the pillows. He’d squeezed his eyes together tightly enough to crease his brow; she chased the furrows away with the pad of her thumb. Both his hands clutched her left hand like it was a lifeline to shore, and he, afraid of drowning.
“Because I want to,” she murmured. He twitched at the word want. She wanted to match him, move, take and give and gasp into his warm skin. “While you were sleeping, I imagined kissing every one of your freckles. I imagined running my hands through your hair. Messing it up even more.”
She almost carded her fingers through his curls, but stopped herself, hand hovering just above his head.
The next time she touched him, she would not stop.
And still she wanted.
Her tongue, still tasting of toothpaste, darted out to moisten her lips. Cheeks burning, heart racing, she blurted, “I-I had a dream, once. The night … after we kissed on the beach. Can I tell you about it?”
She didn’t recognize the word he breathed; he spoke it in a language she didn’t know. Another tiny nod gave his permission.
“We were kissing—really kissing, the kind of kissing that isn’t going to just stay kissing—in the elevator to your penthouse. And you picked me up, effortlessly, like I weighed nothing, and you set me down on the top of your piano—I know how careful you are with your piano—and it made this sound—”
So did he. So did she.
She sucked in another breath and said in a rush, “But we moved to the couch, and I-I straddled you, like—Can I show you?”
Definitely a whimper. This time, Lucifer didn’t protest, didn’t ask for promises to return. He dropped his hands, clenching the blankets in his fists. Carefully, so carefully, she moved until she held his thighs between hers. Before sitting back on her heels, she pressed a chaste kiss to the corner of his mouth. Then she reached for both his hands; he let himself be guided. When she placed his hands on the curve where her waist met her hips and he held on, she returned his whimper.
She pushed her fingers into his hair the way she’d wanted to do for ages, for years. His curls were softer than she expected and smelled of whatever product he usually used to keep them tame. Lucifer’s eyes opened; she lost herself in their darkness for a moment. Biting down on her bottom lip, she refused to look away. She tightened her grip on his hair—just enough to tug but not cause any kind of pain; Lucifer’s lips parted, but he made no sound. “You had horns. I—you called them your love handles.”
“Bloody hell, Chloe,” he said in a voice gone smoky and low. His smile made the corners of his eyes crinkle. “You liked them.”
She nodded, catching her lip between her teeth again.
“You’ve facets I’ve never imagined.” His gaze softened. “Not even in my wildest dreams, I assure you.”
Lifting her chin, screwing her courage to the sticking place, she asked, “Have you? Dreamed about me?”
Because she was expecting lewd, the deepening tenderness in his expression took her aback. “Darling, I’m half-convinced I’m dreaming now.” Hands still planted on her hips, he stroked the sensitive skin of her waist with his index fingers. Even dulled by the layer of nightgown, this touch sparked along her nerves. “I’d have acted. In my dream.” His lips twitched, and he glanced up at her through his ridiculously unfair lashes; she wondered if they would be as soft as his hair. Softer. “And you would be wearing fewer clothes.”
If she were someone else—a Britney or a Lux party girl or maybe even the A-list-actress-Chloe she was pretending to be—she might’ve reached for the hem of her nightgown and pulled it over her head in one effortless motion, tossing it aside with the same grace he’d displayed as he discarded his phone. She might’ve smirked and set her shoulders back, certain of her status, of her worthiness, of his adoration. But he was Lucifer and she was granny-panties Decker, and she wanted but didn’t know how to take.
So quietly her voice hardly carried the words at all, she said, “You asked—In my dream, you asked if I was sure I wanted to … you know.”
His hands—God how she loved his hands; their strength, their nimble fingers—tightened on her hips. In a voice that made her think of dark corners and dreams and lips tasting of whiskey, he said, “And you said?”
“I told you to shut up.”
His eyes sparkled. Her blush went up another ten degrees.
“And then I woke up.”
One brow lifted. “How … unsatisfying.”
Her body, on that same precipice now, reminded her of this truth. “Also, Maze was sitting in my room watching me, eating popcorn.”
He made a face. “Now there’s a mood killer.”
She dragged her blunted nails across his scalp, down the back of his head, and along the column of his neck. After dropping a kiss onto his mouth, she pulled away before he could deepen it. She kissed the impossibly soft flesh of his earlobe, teasing a groan from him when she nibbled it. And then she lowered her head to the curve where neck met shoulder so she could kiss the spot where his pulse jumped beneath his skin, raising a dull purple mark.
“Mood restored.” Then, with that hint of the trepidation she found both heartbreaking and endearing, he added, “May I—” His lips trembled. “I’d like, very much, to kiss you now.”
He tilted his head and blinked at her. “Pardon?”
“I like it,” she clarified, wanting to hide her blush and knowing she couldn't do a damn thing about it. “The way you say ‘Detective’—” She drank the air in little sipping gasps, like a hummingbird at a feeder. “It’s mine. I like it.”
So easily she knew she’d only held him because he wanted to be held, Lucifer reached for her, cradling her neck and her lower back as he reversed their positions. He wore only silk boxers; her nightgown had ridden up, revealing her stomach and the scrap of silk and lace she’d worn because all her not-Ollie-approved cotton underwear had gone missing between her house and this one.
If the look that crossed Lucifer’s face was any indication, maybe there was something to the whole lingerie thing after all.
I did not even recognize Polaris.
But he’d always looked at her like this. Always.
“May I, Detective?” He drew out the word, giving it almost four syllables, each somehow more wanton than the one preceding it.
“Shut up,” she said.
He didn’t, as she half-expected, immediately remove her nightgown. Instead, he combed his fingers through her hair, leaving warmth and want in his wake. He ran his knuckles along her cheek; brushed his thumb over her parted lips. She caught the pad between her teeth, and he rewarded her with a grin.
“Not very much,” she returned, clutching at the sheets to keep herself from squirming beneath him.
He replied by cupping her cheek in one hand and capturing her lips.
Chloe couldn’t think too hard about the vast number of people Lucifer had kissed even just since they’d met, let alone—well. But oh, if kissing was an art, Lucifer was its master. By turns insistent and powerful and tender and desperate, Lucifer kissed like kissing was its own reward instead of a stepping stone to something more important. A dance, she thought before she ceased being able to think at all, with a superlative partner who led with confidence but not arrogance, who encouraged brilliance in return.
He hadn’t so much as touched her below the neck, and she was already on the brink of falling to pieces.
When he finally broke away, he pressed his forehead to hers. She held tight to his shoulders, fingers digging into his skin.
“I—I would like—I wish I could ask what you desire,” he said, breathless, eyes shut, cheeks flushed. “I want—I want—you deserve—”
“Lucifer.” Tears—happy ones, overwhelmed ones—trickled down her temples to dampen her hair. “Shut up.”
Using her grip on his shoulders as leverage, she kissed him, hard, and even if she wasn’t the most elegant dancer, she had moves she liked, and which Lucifer seemed all too amenable to exploring with her.
“You,” she said when she finally pulled back to take a breath. “No artisan honey or car batteries or props or planning. Your mouth, your hands, your—”
“I do get the picture, Detective.”
“No one else gets a cheat sheet, Lucifer,” she whispered into his ear before releasing his shoulders and falling back into the pillows. “And … figuring things out is part of … you know. Exploring. Everything. Together.”
He blinked, as if the concept of figuring things out as he went along had never occurred to him. She huffed an amused breath. Never mind that he applied that approach to, oh, many other areas of his life; here, where he’d always been able to get exact answers, the concept was endearingly baffling. She ran a hand down his arm, circling her fingers loosely around his wrist, stroking the soft skin on the underside of it with her thumb.
“Exploring,” he echoed. With a smile bordering on shy, he asked, “May I explore?”
After a shuddering inhale, she exhaled, “Please,” and was proud of herself for not whining.
Here, too, Lucifer surprised her. With patience she’d never have dreamed possible, he mapped her skin with fingertips and then kisses, like a sculptor trying to find the figure within the marble or a musician trying notes in search of the perfect melody, until rational thought fled altogether, and she gave herself over to the sensations Lucifer pulled from her.
If she’d had the words, she’d have reassured him he had nothing—absolutely nothing—to worry about, mojo or no mojo.
But Chloe stiffened when he kissed the silk still covering her pubic bone. Lucifer stopped at once, gazing up at her with startled confusion.
“Do you not like … this?”
She turned her face away. “You just—you really don’t have to—”
“Of course I needn’t,” he drawled, drawing maddening constellations of his own across the sensitive skin between her hipbones. “That’s not what I asked, darling.”
She squeezed her eyes shut, trying not to remember other faces, other expressions, other quid pro quo exchanges that had always left her feeling both unsatisfied and vaguely unhappy for even asking. “I know it’s gross.”
Lucifer’s fingers stilled so abruptly she looked at him before she remembered her embarrassment. At another time, in a different situation, she might have laughed at his affronted expression. “It is not.” He flattened his palm against her stomach; she quivered at his warmth, at her desire for it to move just, just a little more. “I suppose we’ve your douchey ex to thank for spreading this vile misinformation?”
“No—I—Lucifer, we can—” Stumbling to a halt, she wrinkled her nose and shook her head. “Why don’t we do something we’ll both enjoy?”
“Chloe,” he murmured, his voice husky and carnal and reverent all at once, “there is, quite literally, nothing I presently desire more than proving wrong whoever convinced you this particular pleasure was something to avoid.” He hooked his index fingers around the lace holding her underwear in place. “May I?”
She held her breath. He waited, unmoving, expression hopeful but without pressure.
“Okay,” she finally said. “But if you don’t like it, you don’t have to—”
The breath of his ha ghosted over her bare stomach as he divested her of her scrap of silk and resumed the path of kisses she’d interrupted earlier.
When Lucifer applied his focus—the entirety of his focus, the enormity of his focus—solely on her, she began to suspect, perhaps, her previous partners had been a bit … selfish. Especially, um, in this particular area. After thirty seconds, she forgot all about her embarrassment, all about perfunctory exchanges and quid pro quo, and began squirming for an entirely different reason altogether.
And then—and then—and then—she knew only Lucifer’s hands and Lucifer’s lips and Lucifer’s tongue. Her universe coalesced to only the impossibly erotic rasp of Lucifer’s stubble against the tender flesh of her inner thigh, to the way she could feel him smiling—probably smirking, almost certainly smirking—against her as she began to tremble and gasp. Chloe—so used to being silent to keep little ears from hearing what they shouldn’t—didn’t realize she was moaning until Lucifer hummed a little laugh against her.
Again and again he brought her to the edge of release without letting her fall over it, and instead of finding it infuriating, she reveled in the intensity; she yearned for more; she held her breath in anticipation. And then, when he’d reached the final crescendo of whatever symphony he was composing on her body, he lifted his dark gaze and murmured, “Come now, Detective,”—she’d never be able to think of his teasing little admonishments the same way again, not ever—before lowering his mouth and curling his fingers and creating a whole different universe of stars in the darkness behind her eyelids.
When she eventually returned to this particular galaxy in this specific universe, she opened her eyes and found Lucifer still lying where he’d been, his head resting on her thigh, gazing at her raptly. He didn’t even look smug—and here, at least, Chloe could admit he had every right to smugness. She wanted to reach for him, pull his mouth to hers and devour him with the adoration he'd lavished on her, but her limbs remained boneless and decidedly unresponsive as tremors and aftershocks threatened to undo her all over again.
“That was—” she finally managed. “That was—” She cursed the inadequacy of language. “Lucifer. That was the best … the best anything I’ve ever—I didn’t even know—”
“Of course,” he replied, sharp, as if she’d slapped him instead offering a compliment. She blinked, startled. Faster than she’d have thought possible, he was up and headed toward the bathroom. By the time she parsed that she’d said something—done something?—terribly wrong, the lock had clicked and the sound of the running shower muffled her every attempt to call him back, ask the matter, explain.
Half an hour later, knowing Lucifer had to hear her calling his name even over the pounding of the shower that showed no sign of stopping, Chloe slunk out of the poolhouse and hoped Linda hadn’t already left.
Hi. Sorry about the wait. I'll offer a longer explanation at the end—but first, a chapter. A very, very delayed chapter.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Lucifer remembered standing under the scalding water of his shower, hands pressed flat against cool tile to stop their shaking, listening to his heart pound in his ears. He didn’t remember dressing, which probably explained why he was wearing last season’s Armani, a shirt without cufflinks, and nary a pocket square in sight. His bloody shoes were not ones he’d have paired with any Armani, even without the unforgivably scuffed left toe.
The bones of his right hand ached as if he’d gone ten rounds with one of his angelic siblings; he could not recall why. He did not remember leaving the house, starting the car. He was increasingly certain he’d not turned off the shower.
The wind whipped his still-damp hair into the curls he usually tamed viciously into obedience. That he hadn’t done even that before leaving was more troubling still. A glance at the clock told him nothing; he’d no idea when he’d slunk from the house, furtive and foolish; he’d no idea how long he’d spent driving too fast through the winding canyons like a Devil with a death wish. Trying to remember. Trying to forget.
Realizing, of course, of bloody course, of Dad-damned course he’d done precisely as he’d said he wouldn’t.
Worse, said a voice annoyingly like Doctor Linda’s or maybe Amenadiel’s—perhaps even his own—in the back of his head. You made an assumption. And then you ran.
Lucifer slammed the palm of his still-shaking, still-aching hand against the rim of the steering wheel and snarled enthusiastic and inventive invective into the wind. Pawing at his breast pocket revealed he’d left his mobile behind along with the cufflinks, the pocket square, the Detective.
The screech of wheels and blare of a horn finally woke him just in time to see how close he’d come to side-swiping a bloody silent Tesla. The driver looked too terrified to be angry; Lucifer noted the license plate so he might apologize properly later. With his hands at the ten and two he so often scoffed at, and driving at a speed even the Det—driving below the limit, he managed the rest of his journey without further near-collision experiences.
Arriving at Lux brought him no respite from the torture inflicted by his own thoughts, however. He’d forgotten—the scalding shower, his shaking hands, his heart hammering in his ears and still not drowning out everything he wanted drowned, needed drowned—he’d forgotten they were filming today. Here. Him at the piano; her, irritated and intoxicating and altogether alluring instead of being allured.
We’re done here.
At least Lux had alcohol.
He headed straight for the elevator to his penthouse and the good liquor, ignoring the glances and voices, ignoring the questions and chatter and greetings and pleas like so many demons chittering for his attention, dullards all. Pressing two fingertips to his throbbing temple, he fantasized briefly about injudiciously applying his monstrous form to smite the lot of them into gibbering imbecility.
He didn’t, of course. Wouldn’t. She wouldn’t like it. And he wouldn’t like himself if he did.
Not that he could like himself much less than he already did.
You made an assumption. A foolish one. An insulting one. An abhorrent one. And then you ran.
Before the elevator could close and leave him to the solitude he both craved and feared, a hand reached out and forced them open again.
“No,” Lucifer said when Daniel shouldered his way in. The door closed behind him. Neither pushed the button to take them to the penthouse. “Not now, Daniel.”
Daniel narrowed his eyes, and even distracted, Lucifer could not miss the flash of dislike—was it hate? Perhaps it was hate—in their depths. “Not my idea of a good time, either, pal. Where’s Chloe? I called her three times last night and she didn’t pick up.”
The curled lip of a sneer was a pleasant enough change from self-flagellation; Lucifer gave himself over to it with relish. “Last I checked, my fiancee needn’t be at your beck and call at every hour of the day and night.”
Daniel ground his teeth. Loudly. A muscle twitched in his meaty neck. Lucifer half-wished Daniel would just do it—just accept that simmering desire to let loose with his fists and hit and hit until hitting gave way to guilt and shame and self-loathing. Lucifer needn’t ask what Daniel desired, oh no. Whatever cautious detentes and occasional moments of near-friendship they’d shared in the past, Daniel was having none of it, now.
Lucifer suspected it was to do with Charlotte. Misplaced hatred, then, but valid all the same.
A pang of his own grief made him turn away from Daniel’s seething and depress the penthouse button. Daniel could bloody-well help himself, if he wanted. Lucifer certainly didn’t intend to wait any longer.
“I suppose your late night calls were to a purpose,” Lucifer offered, not quite a question; he would not give Daniel that satisfaction.
“You think?” Daniel exhaled. “Look, my parents got their dates wrong. Trixie’s coming back today instead of at the end of the week and I’m on day two of God knows how many stakeouts trying to catch some evidence. And yeah, before you give me a hard time, I tried to find—”
“Well, that’s hardly a problem, Daniel,” Lucifer said, brightening a little. Perhaps an infusion of saccharine exuberant child was just the thing. A … a distraction. “The child was meant to stay with us—with the Detective. I see no reason that should change simply because your doubtless aged parents have difficulties reading the calendar.”
“Hey, man, leave my parents—wait.” Daniel’s expression turned incredulous enough to dispel the hate, at least momentarily. “So, you’ll just … take her early?”
Lucifer raised his eyebrows. Every bloody time he thought he’d been a little too hard on the man, he had to go and open his mouth and prove what a dunce he was. “That is what I said. I’ve no idea why you’re working yourself into such a state over it.”
“I don’t know; seems pretty obvious to me. You’re not exactly subtle about the whole kids-are-poison thing.”
“I have never said that,” Lucifer snapped. “I have never used that word.”
The elevator slid to a stop. Lucifer brushed past Daniel without waiting for the doors to open fully.
The penthouse was in chaos. Lucifer’s hands twitched at his sides, longing to return order. Half a dozen black-clad technicians were playing a card game that involved a great deal of shouting and laughter. Several racks of costuming hid most of the bar from view. A trio of makeup artists sat in chairs meant for their talent, gossiping about people they’d worked with or for. Lucifer recognized most of the names; none of the overheard gossip surprised him. The remains of half-eaten lunches—and perhaps breakfasts, as well—congealed in containers strewn from one end of the room to the other.
Daniel’s chuckle nearly undid him completely, and the smug punch to the shoulder might have ended in blood—or at least a very thorough strangling—if Oliver hadn’t appeared and begun shooing the layabouts from his presence. At least now Lucifer's hands ached for a different reason. The urge to clean, to put everything back in its rightful place, burned until he curled his fingers into fists to stop himself.
You did this. You did this. You and no one else.
“So, you’ll let Chloe know?” Daniel asked. “‘Cause I’m already running late here.”
Lucifer dismissed Daniel with a terse nod. Without waiting for a response, he fled—no, he was the bloody Devil, the Devil didn’t bloody flee—he strode through his bedroom—bloody hell, someone uninvited was sleeping on his bed—and disappeared into his well-stocked closet. At least no one had encamped amongst his clothing. That he could see. He didn't dare step into the bathroom.
Ridding himself of the mismatched clothing and scuffed shoes did not have quite the desired effect. Though the new suit fit impeccably, the seams rubbed, the shirt chafed, the shoulders felt far too tight. He dropped one of his cufflinks and heard it skitter across the floor on a muttered curse, he turned to look for it and saw not Daniel or Oliver or even the Detective in the doorway, but Doctor Linda—small and frowning and wearing yesterday’s clothes.
With the imagined sound of a shower in his ears, Lucifer abandoned the cufflink and exhaled. “Doctor Linda. I’ve something—”
The frown deepened into something else entirely. He was momentarily struck by the image of storm clouds forming on an otherwise cloudless horizon. “Oh, no. I am not your therapist right now, Lucifer. This? Right here? This is not last night.”
“No, of course not. You see, I’ve done something ter—”
She took one step forward before stopping and shaking her head. “How could you?”
He blinked. If some tiny little mortal woman could make the Devil feel chastised, which of course she could not, he supposed that displeasure could have accounted for the sudden heat in his cheeks.
“I’m Chloe’s friend, and what you pulled—”
“Yes, Doctor, I kno—”
“Leaving someone—anyone—in that state of vulnerability would be awful enough, but to do that to Chloe, the Chloe you claim to, to care about so mu—”
“Doctor, I know. I—”
“And after the relationships she’s had and the losses she’s suffered”—Linda advanced on him—“to take that risk only to have you leave her, like that!” On every word, she poked him in the chest with a finger like a knife. He wished it were a knife. The knife would feel better. More appropriate. “Worse, Lucifer! Ignore her like that—”
“I think he gets the picture,” said the Detective.
Lucifer inhaled and lifted his eyes. She stood in the doorway, leaning against the frame. Gone the soft abandon; the pink in her cheeks and lips he thought might be his new favorite shade in all his Father’s universe; her bliss and his pride at being the source of it. Her eyes were red and her hair unkempt.
She was beautiful. And her expression was devastating.
He’d done that.
Poison, of course. He always knew just the type.
But she didn’t meet his gaze, and his words faded into silence.
“Chloe,” Linda said, as soft as she’d been hard just moments before. “Do you need me?”
The Detective shook her head. Dragged her hand through her tangled hair. Didn’t look at him. “We still have work to do. It’s better to deal with…” Her gesture, though vague, left little to the imagination. Him. “I’m fine. Thank you. For all of this. But I’m fine.”
A fresh wave of shame made him look away from Linda’s parting glare. He left his gaze on the ground. The Detective drew closer. Not close, but closer. He wanted to speak but his throat was too tight. He could scarcely breathe.
As if you deserve breath. Monster.
She said, “I know you feel bad. I know you wish you could undo … whatever that was back there. I know you didn’t set out to hurt me the … the way you hurt me. I know all that. I get it.” She paused. He heard her inhale and braced himself for what would come next. “I know, and right now? I don’t care.”
He said nothing. He nodded.
“And it’s not that I don’t care about you. I do. Of course I do. But I…” Her voice quavered, faltered. “Linda told me so much about you last night. And I told her so much about me. But you and I? We haven’t had those conversations. We should have … we should have had those conversations. Because otherwise? Otherwise, this isn't different from—from Dan, from Marcus. And I need something different. I ... Linda says I deserve something different.”
Again, he nodded. She moved a little closer, just a step, and he wasn’t sure if it was deliberate or not.
At least if she hit him, it would hurt.
Some minuscule penance for a sin he could never right.
You ran. Monster.
“Linda’s right, Lucifer. About me. About my … my vulnerability. And—well, this has taught me something valuable.”
He raised his eyes. The rosiness of a blush had replaced the Detective’s pallor. “Did it?”
He hated the thin quiver of hope running through his voice. Hated that he wanted her to make things better when he knew bloody well his were the actions that had demolished their burgeoning relationship like a wrecking ball meeting tissue paper.
Chin lifted, gaze steady, the Detective replied, “We’re not on the same page. We’re not in the same book. You—you know everything there is to know about pleasure. I believe that. You care about me. I believe that, too. But you don’t know enough about me. About how much crazy glue I’ve used trying to put myself back together. About how easily I break, especially when, especially—” She inhaled sharply, squeezing her eyes shut.
His hands twitched, aching to reach out to her, knowing his touch was the last thing she wanted or needed. So, he did not reach. He stood, a silent witness, as she rebuilt her armor, piece by bloody heartbreaking piece. To protect herself. From him. And rightfully bloody so.
Still, he flinched when she opened her eyes. “I have never been anything like those people who were only interested in having the best night of their lives.” She fixed on some spot just over his shoulder, the shine in her eyes brighter than the light could account for. “Being left. Being ignored. That hurt. It did. You thinking, even for a second, that I might use you that way?” Two tears slid down her cheeks in agonizingly slow motion. “That was worse, Lucifer. That was so much worse.”
The noise he made wasn’t a word. Not in hers or any other language. He didn’t know how to say I don’t know why that happened or It won’t happen again or I know that, Chloe, of course I know that. He shook his head again, useless.
“I’m glad you’re … figuring things out. What you want; what you don’t want. But I don’t want to—I won’t be a guinea pig. I can’t. I’ve already—I’m not ready. And, and honestly? I don’t think you are, either.”
Finally, finally, his throat released a word, low and wretched and not nearly enough. “Detective—”
A soft knock interrupted them. Because of course it bloody did. Knocks and mobile phones and morons with no sense of timing were the bane of his bloody existence. A moment later, a young woman with turquoise streaks in her dark hair peeked in. Lucifer spared her only a glance. At least she had the decency to look ashamed.
“Sorry, Ms. Decker. Your call is coming up and we’ve still got a lot of, um, work to do.”
Those critics who had, once upon a time, deemed Chloe Decker a “talentless hack coasting on great tits and an almost-famous mother” hadn’t known how good an actress she was, truly. With a smile nearly indistinguishable from genuine and lightness that did not seem the slightest bit forced, she said, “I’ll be right there.”
The turquoise-streaked head vanished.
The damned film. As if it mattered. As if any of it bloody mattered.
Lucifer swallowed hard. “Shall I—would you prefer we end this charade, then?”
Her very genuine frown told him this suggestion was the wrong one. “You think the … the Lieutenant was wrong, then? About what we’re supposed to be doing here?”
The urge to hang his head—wrong, wrong, everything wrong—nearly overwhelmed him. Shifting his weight from one foot to the other, he said, “I do not.”
“Then we keep pretending.”
This time he didn’t bother nodding. The Detective did so for him, curtly. Before she could leave, he said, “Beatrice is expected early. Tonight, rather. I spoke with Daniel. I—I said it wouldn’t be a bother. I realize now I ought to have consulted with you.”
“Thank you,” she said. “We’ll stay out of your hair.”
“Detective,” he said, softly, still fearing his own body might betray him and lock the words inside forever, “that’s not necessary. Surely you know I—”
“Let’s just get back to work. Okay?”
And because even he, bastard that he was, heard the sharpness in her tone and saw the tension in her body and knew them for signs of the distress she was hiding, Lucifer swallowed his own and said, “Very well, Detective. Work it is.”
When she’d gone, he sank to his knees, burying his face in his hands. Why had he done it? Why had he said it? When she’d handed him the hilt of the blade, why had he used it to stab her—knowing he’d destroy himself in the process?
It’s what you always do. It’s what you’ve always done.
You poison everything you touch.
The cufflink he’d dropped glittered just to the left of his knee; he picked it up. Stared at it. Crushed the metal between his fingers. And reached for another pair.
Sitting at the piano beneath lights much different from the ones Lux usually used, Lucifer did not have to pretend at melancholy. Anger came easily enough as well; no one need know its source was not imagining the death of poor, doomed Delilah.
The Detective flipped open her notepad. “‘Lucifer Morningstar’?” she said, as if she hadn’t spoken his name a thousand times since this moment, this first bloody moment. “Is that, uh, a stage name or something?”
The chuckled. Hollow. “God-given, I’m afraid.”
She winced, dropping her eyes.
“Cut! Cut!” shouted Anton. “Ms. Decker, a word?”
Someone refilled Lucifer’s whiskey glass to the precise level it had been when they started shooting. Someone else ground out his cigarette and prepared another. A third person swept in to dust powder on his nose, as if he needed it. These lights were nothing compared to Hell. Human beings had yet to invent a light source that could make him sweat.
Lucifer cocked his head, listening to Anton and the Detective speak.
“We went over this. She does not believe him. She’s an atheist, remember. This is nonsense. This bastard’s got information and she needs it. I know, I know, sympathy for the Devil and all that, but this scene? Neither the time nor place. Give her somewhere to go.”
“I’m sorry,” she replied—as if she had the slightest thing to be sorry for—“I felt it happen. It just … caught me off-guard. It won’t happen again.”
“I know it’s been a … a long time, Ms. Decker. Do you need more rehearsal?”
She shook her head, her golden ponytail shimmering in the lights.
He’d been allowed to touch that hair, run its silk through his fingers, tug it just firmly enough to reveal her throat. She’d let him kiss that swathe of skin, tease it with nibbles, bury his face in its softness and feel her pulse racing, while his hands traveled where they willed, pulling gasps and moans from her—a more delightful music than any he’d ever liberated from a piano’s strings—
“What?” he snapped, peevish.
You broke it—broke her. Again. You miserable sod.
The director’s assistant stepped back, shoulders reflexively curving as if she feared violence.
“Sorry,” she said in a tiny voice that made him feel all the more monstrous. “It’s just—we were trying to—you weren’t—sorry. There’s a call for you. They said it was urgent.”
He swallowed the entire glass of whiskey—no iced tea in his tumblers, thank you very much—in one go, to the twittering dismay of the young man who’d just filled it. “Who?” he asked as he rose from the piano bench.
Her pained expression told him what he needed to know.
“Very well, where, then?”
She gestured toward the bar, hand trembling. In his mind’s eye, he imagined the Detective’s disapproving look at his antics and he forced himself to swallow at least a portion of his bitter vitriol.
“Lucifer Morningstar,” he said into the bar’s landline handset. “Lux is closed just at the moment, so I fear your urgent business will have to wa—”
“She’s lovely, isn’t she? Your pretty little dove. So strong. Deceptively fragile.”
Lucifer froze. If the speaker identified with a gender, he couldn’t guess it. Neither did it stir any recollection. He saw the Detective’s bloody hands curled helplessly around a white bird. Her wide eyes. Genuine distress. Genuine grief.
It’s the second time. They were both white. The … feathers. The blood.
The stranger on the other end of the line continued without pause, indifferent to or ignoring Lucifer’s silence. “‘And the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape, as a dove upon him; and a voice came from heaven: Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased.’ Do you know that one?”
“Little old-fashioned for my taste, the Douay-Rhiems. And not, as I recall, about me.”
The voice laughed as if he’d said something delightful. “I heard you thought you were funny.”
“Oh?” Lucifer turned his back to the bustle and chaos, lowering his voice. “From who, pray tell?”
“I wonder,” the voice mused, ignoring his query, “if your Father sent her, was she a gift? Was He well pleased with His beloved son when He devised her? When He put all her little pieces together? When He wound her up and set her walking toward you?”
“Tell me who you are, so I can remove your limbs from your body and still your impudent tongue.”
“Tempting, but no.” The voice sighed. “Your Father giveth and He taketh away. Will He clip your little dove’s wings after what you’ve done? Will hers be the body you find, bloody and battered and oh so broken? Tell me, Lucifer, does that punishment fit your crime? You are the expert, after all.”
“If you hurt her—if you touch her—”
“You have considered it, though, haven’t you? In the dark and the quiet? Alone with your thoughts and your alcohol? Whether He will take His gift away as easily as He gave it. Whether she’ll be the one to pay the price for your sins. How the mighty are fallen, oh great Lucifer Morningstar, Prince of Poison and King of Hell; Samael the Sullen and Selfish—”
Lucifer’s eyes flashed red; he felt it—and with it, the impotence of being able to do nothing.
“I will find you,” Lucifer growled. “I will find you and I will—”
“Kill me?” Again the mocking laughter. “Isn’t that what got you into this mess? Isn’t that the red in your ledger that you know, you know, it's only a matter of time before your Father comes to collect?”
Lucifer’s retort curdled on his lips. “Who are you?”
The answering pause dragged on so long Lucifer would’ve thought the call ended if not for the faint sound of breathing. Even that seemed to mock him. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. “Haven’t you figured it out, Lucifer?”
“I will bloody destroy—”
“I’m the Sinnerman.”
And this time—this time the line went dead.
So. File "This Hiatus" under "Things I Neither Anticipated Nor Wanted." Readers who follow me on Tumblr will know a bit of this, and I won't go into all the gory details, but the last few months have been fairly difficult ones for me. I'm adjusting to an autoimmune diagnosis (psoriatic arthritis), and the reality of the condition really hit me hard when I wasn't able to use my arms and hands to type for more than three weeks because of the pain. Adding to the general mess was a bunch of personal, family, and work stuff that wore me down—and which I only saw for what it was when it was already too late. At one point, I realized I hadn't so much as OPENED Scrivener for more than a month.
The good news is, after a minor nervous breakdown, I've had time to reevaluate, establish better boundaries, and figure out several active self-care/wellness things I needed to figure out. I am feeling really great right now. Genuinely. My pain is mostly under control (for now, fingers crossed), work is really busy but not panic busy (and most of my clients are ones I love, not ones I feel forced to take), and I've been able to distance myself from some of the stressors that were wearing away at me like slow-dripping water torture.
At no point did I imagine giving up on this story; please don't think my silence had anything to do with my commitment to it. I was just very unwell for a while, and it's taken me this long to get healthy enough to flex my creativity muscles again.
Thank you so much for your patience, and for all the nice notes and kind words people sent me over the last few months. I really, really appreciated them all. You're wonderful readers. It means everything to me that so many of you are here, rooting for me and rooting for this story.
And now that I've a new chapter to post, I can finally give myself permission to go back and reply to all those unreplied-to, months-old comments *shame*