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All We Need of Hell

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After midnight on a Friday night, Lux was in full swing.

The nightclub came to life in the early hours of the weekend, an adult playground of concrete, hardwood, steel and alcohol, where modern industrial elegance met some secret after-hours world. Even framed by row after row of softly glowing lights, Lux held fast to its shadows. Revelers passed in and out of hidden corners, fading into the blues and greys between bright digital screens and ivory damask booths. Thrumming music pounded out primal rhythms overhead, spiking the pulse, swallowing the clink of glasses and warm brown bottles, muffling the clatter of unsteady high heels. Sequins and satin and bared skin gleamed beneath the dim lights, a ceaseless rush of wantonness or want-to-be.

The sights and sounds of the club washed over detective Chloe Decker as she sat quietly at the bar. Running one finger around the rim of her glass, she watched its tawny liquid reflect the myriad moving shadows and lights around her. Bodies brushed past, shifting, agitated, reaching over her for their own cut glass tumblers, then sinking again into the press of humanity.  Chloe sipped her drink, the earthy burn of top shelf scotch searing her tongue and throat, kindling in her stomach and leaving acrid fumes in its wake.

What was she doing here? At this hour?

Trixie was with Dan’s mother in San Diego for the week, and home felt vacant and forlorn, but surely there were other places she could pass the time? At the station, for example—except it felt pathetic to work into the early hours on nothing but cold cases and under the even colder stares of Malcolm’s late shift cronies. She could reach out to old friends, but she’d barely seen any of them in the last decade. Immersed in family strife (Dan’s on-again-off-again, now-I-support-you, now-I-don’t attitude) and in work (trying to regain some lost credibility in the aftershocks of Palmetto), whatever life she’d had before had withered beyond recognition.

She sighed. At 1 a.m., there really weren’t that many options open to her when insomnia refused to retreat and loneliness wanted to sit at her shoulder like a cartoon devil. So, in a fit of either boredom or madness (probably both), she had decided to take Lucifer’s standing invitation to come to Lux. The bouncer had recognized her on her way to the back of the long line and waved her beneath the velvet ropes—much to the annoyance of all those who had probably been waiting for hours. One of the bartenders, a heavily-tattooed twenty-something who introduced himself as Patrick, had also waved off her credit card. “Boss’ orders,” he explained with a cheery smile. “Enjoy. Let me know what you need.”

Chloe wasn’t sure if she was flattered or concerned that most of the staff seemed to recognize her on sight. Although Lucifer had worked several cases with her by now, and they often met at the closed club, it seemed strange to have this level of access and unnerving to be recognized in a venue she would never have frequented otherwise. L.A. nightclubs, especially exclusive “are you on the list?” clubs like Lux, never expected an LAPD cop among the clientele and certainly didn’t welcome them like they were family.

After Patrick had checked in with her for the third time (“Still good, thanks.”), it was actually a relief to feel the suspicious, almost hostile gaze of Lucifer’s right hand woman. Mazikeen glared at her over a row of bottles, saying nothing but watching her closely as if expecting her to begin arresting the customers willy-nilly. Chloe had nodded at her, but received only cool appraisal and narrowed eyes in return. Shrugging, she turned to watch the room instead and look again for Lucifer.

If she were honest, she had expected the club owner to sweep out of the shadows and crow over her presence, especially after she had firmly and repeatedly turned down his regular invitations. But, unlike the rest of his staff, he seemed unaware of her tonight. She'd seen him sauntering among the patrons, welcoming regulars and smiling beguilingly at new faces. He flirted as easily as he breathed—and almost as often. Confident and irreverent, he wove through the crowd, trading soft touches on shoulders and sleeves, shaking hands with men, leaning in to murmur to women, and periodically joining small groups that all welcomed him like an old and favored friend. In one moment, he whispered something to a group of women who shrieked in delight and fell tipsily against him and each other. Ten minutes later, he lounged against the shiny black piano, tapping his fingers on its surface to punctuate an apparently serious conversation with a middle-aged hipster with long reddish hair. And soon after, he sprawled across one of the large circular booths beside an androgynous figure in black leather, open-legged, open-armed, their eyes consuming the two Lux dancers that arched and gyrated above them.

Chloe had watched him surreptitiously, alternately fascinated and disturbed by his intimacy with seemingly everyone.  What did she expect? This was the man's livelihood, after all—and an exceptionally lucrative one, at that. That playboy air, the electric current of wickedness that glinted in his eyes, the promise of something outside the bounds of the mundane—that was what Lux traded in. Sin and sensuality, the lure of the forbidden, temptation readily available. Surely that's what the whole "I'm the Devil" shtick was about, establishing Lucifer as the main character amidst this devil's playground of (mostly?) legal vice. And it clearly worked for him.

“Another drink?”

Chloe swiveled her stool to find Mazikeen lurking just across the narrow bar now, leaning on her elbows, uncomfortably close. The woman showed her teeth in what might have been an smile, but the detective knew better. Smoky eyes glanced significantly at Chloe’s nearly full glass; dark lips curled in contempt.

“No, thanks. I’m good.” Chloe sipped her scotch again and sat back to reclaim a little personal space and let herself continue tracking Lucifer without completely turning away. Something about Mazikeen always felt slightly hazardous, even in this public place, as if she were some wild thing just waiting to ambush the unaware. Chloe glanced at her again, shaking off the ridiculous feeling. “This a typical night?” she tried for conversation. “You tend the bar, and he mingles? Plays the piano, meets and greets, drinks a lot?"

Maze shrugged one bare shoulder and followed the detective's line of sight back to her boss. Her grimace of a smile sharpened, and she straightened, demeanor transforming from acidic to lascivious in an instant.

Chloe turned to see Patrick returning from a back room behind the second bar, slipping through the crowd with evident practice, his bartender’s towel tossed rakishly over one shoulder. When dodging guests put him close behind his boss, he slid against the other man’s back, molding himself against Lucifer’s taller form, the move both familiar and questioning. Lucifer glanced back over his shoulder, black eyes hooded, to answer the young man with a slow, hungry smile. The gaggle of women he had been chatting with watched, open-mouthed, as the bar man grinned, moved his torso and hips in a rolling, serpentine gesture that caught the driving beat of the music, and Lucifer moved with him, easy and languorous and sensual.

Chloe blinked, surprised at the coil of tension low in her belly, the quick thickening of the air. Like Mazikeen, she couldn't help but stare as the two hellishly attractive (if she let herself acknowledge it) men began a deliberate, rhythmic grind, oblivious to their growing audience. Patrick stroked Lucifer's hip beneath his jacket, fingers splayed to press their bodies more tightly together. But even as his hands roamed, his eyes stayed trained on Lucifer’s profile, watchful, almost worshipping. He brushed his lips against the shoulder of Lucifer’s fine suit and waited for an infinitesimal nod before bringing his teeth to bear in a suggestive bite. The “devil” let his head roll back, closing his eyes and, it seemed, chuckling appreciatively.

One nearby girl, hardly old enough to be there at all, dropped heavily into a chair with her eyes locked on the pair. Her friends giggled and fanned her, but they, too, seemed rapt.

Mazikeen hummed with pleasure. "Typical night. Music. Drink. And sex. A lot of sex." Her smile was decidedly wicked. “We both like sex."

Chloe dragged her eyes away from the two men, wondering whether “employee benefits” had a very different definition here at Lux. “I get that impression, yeah.”

"But you don't."

"What?"

"You don't like sex."

Chloe gaped at the other woman. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"You don't see him—," Mazikeen tossed her chin at where Lucifer and his subordinate continued to dance with barely restrained sensuality, “—and want to copulate with him?"

"No!" She was absolutely not having a conversation about her sexual interests with Lucifer's creepy assistant and probable lover.

The woman leaned in again, head tilted curiously. "How about with me, then?"

"What?" Chloe sat up straighter, scowling. "Why would I—? You don't even like me."

"Nope."

"Then, what’s your point?" Chloe snapped.

"If it’s not him, then it's usually me. Sometimes both. Sometimes together.” A quick flash of tongue slid again along her blood-red lips. “But you—" Maze's sharp, dark eyes searched the detective's face, pressing closer. She inhaled deeply, an almost feral scenting of the air. "Then again, I think that maybe you do want him. I can smell it on you.” With a disdainful huff, she turned away. "Humans. Always complaining about their miserable lives, then going out of their way to deny themselves the things that would make them less miserable. I don’t  understand self-restraint."

"Why doesn't that surprise me?" Chloe threw back a burning gulp of scotch, disconcerted and a little affronted by the interrogation and the assumption. So, she wasn’t immune to that nearly uncensored display on the dance floor, but that certainly didn’t mean she had any interest in Lucifer beyond their weird work-friendship thing. What was it with Lucifer and his staff that everything always seemed to devolve into sex?

The rhythms of the music downshifted, relaxing and slowing, releasing a new flood of people toward the bars to refresh their drinks. Reluctantly abandoning Lucifer to his weak-kneed fans, Patrick made his way back to the main bar followed by admiring glances. Mazikeen trailed one long-nailed hand down his back as he passed her. “Very nice, Patrick,” she murmured, and he gave her the tiniest of bows in response before pushing his sleeves back and beginning to pour requests from the waiting horde.

“Like what you see, Detective?” Lucifer’s voice came from immediately behind her, breathing in her ear, low and dark and full of promise.

Chloe stiffened, surprised. She took a slow breath and arranged her face in more appropriately indifferent lines before turning to look up at him. Why did he have to be so very tall? "You mean like your bartender over there?”

“Hmm. Among other things.” Lucifer was standing well inside of polite personal space, leaning in to hear and be heard over the throbbing music. Even through the undercurrents of booze and smoke that pervaded the air, he was close enough that she could smell the bite of his particular cologne and the brandy on his breath.

“Everyone else does, it seems. You put on quite a show."

“So, you have been watching!” He arched his eyebrows suggestively. “I thought you’d given up your surveillance of me months ago, Detective. But if voyeurism is your kink, I could offer you a far more salacious view if you wanted to slip into the office or upstairs. You could bring Patrick, if you liked. Ooo, unless public display is part of the thrill? I won’t mind, either way.”

“Gross,” she told him, amused despite herself. “I’m not here for you. And certainly not for whatever deviant backroom foreplay you’ve got going on. I’m here for me. I can’t help that you seem to draw the attention of everyone in here like moths to a flame.”

“Fire is my element,” he said agreeably, completely unfazed—as always—by her refusal to play. “But I’m used to everyone else’s attention. Par for the course, as it were. It’s yours that interests me tonight. You took me up on my offer, finally! Couldn’t keep away, after all?”

“I got bored, so I thought I’d look in and see what you do in your regular job. After all, you visit mine often enough.”

“And what do you think?”

She took a second to look around the club again, as if making up her mind. “It’s very—you.”

"What can I say?” He actually seemed to preen, tugging at his cuffs and brushing invisible dust off his sleeve. “My very bones were made of will and desire. Carnality is just second nature. Fitting, wouldn’t you say?”

Chloe rolled her eyes and swiveled back to the bar.

“Come on, Detective,” he said, ducking back into her peripheral vision. “Get into the spirit of the thing since you’re here? Ah, I know.” His black eyes glittered impossibly in the dim nightclub lighting; his too-white, too-sharp teeth flashed in a slow, deliberate grin. “Dance with the Devil? You know you want to.”

“Oh, you mean dancing with you is what I desire ?” She drew out the last word, mocking him gently, and tried to ignore the warmth she felt when his devilish facade broke into a genuine smile at her teasing. Shared good humor and camaraderie replaced the practiced leer for an instant, her partner-in-(punishing)-crime appearing just under the surface of the decadent, licentious club owner.

“I could wish it were, at the very least,” he said, a little wry. “And perhaps you might enjoy your rare evening out a bit more if you allowed yourself a little fun. I mean, that scotch clearly isn’t going anywhere very fast, is it?”

She looked curiously up at him. Who had been watching whom, after all?

He held one manicured hand out to her, his ever-present silver ring glinting, opulent and anachronistic. "Just one dance, Detective.”

"Is that a metaphor for sex?” She wasn’t sure if she was flirting with him or genuinely checking his motives, so she pulled her face into one of her more disgruntled expressions to make sure he didn’t misunderstand. “Sure looked like it a minute ago.”

"Would you like it to be?” He arranged himself against the edge of the bar, expectant and languid.  Then, catching her glare, he laughed. “I’m kidding. More or less. I can be a gentleman—if it’s required of me, that is. Let me prove it.”

She snorted and shook her head. “What if I said I don’t dance?”

“I’d say you shouldn’t lie to Old Scratch,” came his immediate response. “That body isn’t one that doesn’t dance, Detective.” His eyes raked over her in that unnervingly intimate way she’d seen often enough before, flicking down and traveling slowly back up in an almost physical caress.

She shivered and then bristled, berating herself. Hadn’t she just gotten used to having Dan out of her personal life? She would not to let herself get caught up in the atmosphere of the nightclub, its undertow of debauchery and bad decisions. Or by Lucifer himself. That way lay dragons and probably STDs. "It's not the same body you saw in Hot Tub High School, whatever your disgusting personal fantasies," she ground out.

"Oh, I beg to differ," he purred, voice dropping to a lower register. "Remember, I've seen it. Quite recently, too.”  He called over the music to Patrick who stood polishing wine glasses at the other end of the counter. "Our detective clearly works out. Very fit and firm in all the right places once you get beneath the somewhat drab little layers." A quick gesture took in her casual wear, jeans and the thin white tunic she favored, which she knew looked out of place at the club.

Chloe shushed him, glowering. "That was an accident! You broke into my house while I was in the shower.” Seeing Patrick trying to stifle a grin, she explained, exasperated, “He’s lucky I didn’t shoot him.”

“You saved that for later, as I recall.” Lucifer looked smug. “And I made you breakfast, not that you appreciated it.”

“You’re lucky I didn’t bring my gun tonight.”

He pushed off the bar and looked at her soberly for a moment. “It’s just one dance, Detective. Really.”  

“Oh, fine. If it'll shut you up," she huffed, sliding off the bar stool. “If I’m not too woefully underdressed to be seen on the dance floor with the owner of the place in his—what? Thousand dollar suit?” She looked at him challengingly, not actually concerned about her boots and jeans despite club policy. They had let her in, after all. They could take it up with their boss.

"Splendid!" he cheered. “The cuff links alone are a grand, darling. But even if you are woefully underdressed, no one here will dare comment. Not to me, at least. Being the Prince of Air and Darkness tends to discourage complaints.” They stepped through a tangle of partiers near the Steinway, the crowd parting like the Red Sea around them.

“Right. Prince of something, for sure,” she answered. “Prince of Expense Accounts and Smart-Assery, maybe.”

He barked a laugh, looking as delighted as she had ever seen him, his dark eyes sparkling.

People around them were moving, some more rhythmically than others, lit by the strobing of multicolored spot lights. If the music had words, they were drowned beneath the beat, pure adrenaline in the air, careening, invigorating, and loud. Lux didn’t seem to have a dance floor so much as a general sense that dancing could break out just about anywhere. The paid dancers in their revealing costumes strutted on tables and catwalks, bent themselves over railings, tantalizingly just out of reach. Patrons grooved in small knots and clumps all around, somehow fitting their moves in between the furniture and only rarely knocking over the empties that peppered every surface except the piano, which, despite dominating the most open span of floor, was nearly engulfed with twisting, swaying, bouncing bodies.

Chloe sighed and stared up at her partner who looked back expectantly.

She hadn’t lied to him. It had been years since she had danced.  Even before motherhood and work meant that her “going out” friendships had fallen away to distant memories, she had never been drawn to the club scene. She preferred quieter evenings over dinners and wine, good books or good conversation instead of the intensity and anonymity of clubbing. Her mother had railed against her tendency to “overthink fun,” to “need to be in control,” insisting she was “more old maid than modern woman.” But everything Penelope Decker wished her daughter would do—from acting to dancing to dating widely—Chloe had mostly resisted, especially after Hot Tub. Now, the habits were even more ingrained, an indelible mark of where she was most comfortable. If she wanted to relax, she sought home and quiet and family.

And tonight, bizarrely, she had sought Lucifer. One of these things was not like the others.

Chloe suddenly wondered again what she was doing at nearly 3am, standing like an idiot in the middle of a nightclub with a man who claimed to be the very incarnation of evil and who was, in all likelihood, some sort of Hollywood godfather, granting high-priced favors and dealing in black market goods. Even if his stolen container had been, ultimately, only hiding a set of enormous (and breath-taking) cosplay wings, she still had her suspicions. Not for the first time, she found herself considering just how little she knew about the man her lieutenant had seen fit to saddle her with as a civilian partner—and whom she had begun to think of as a friend despite his weirdness and all the lingering questions about his past and his business dealings.

“Relax, Detective.”

“What?” Chloe started when Lucifer’s voice cut through the music.

“You’re wool-gathering. Whatever it is, let it go. You came down here to dance with me, remember?” He suited word to gesture, beginning to move, rhythmic and sinuous. Raising one eyebrow in invitation first, he closed his eyes as if to let the music fill his senses, take over, drive him, then added, “Before someone else decides to join me instead. You know they will.”

She made a “you-asked-for-it” gesture and stepped towards him with a conservative sway of her hips and shoulders, finding the motion awkward at first but hitting the beat. His eyes flashed open again, and he smiled at her encouragingly. She expected him to take advantage, but his fingertips just brushed her arm, then her waist, guiding her to move in tandem with him through only the lightest touches.

"Really, Detective, you look as nervous as a vestal virgin at her first orgy,” he chuckled down at her after a few minutes. “You know, I'm hardly going to ravish you here in the middle of Lux. Despite what you may have heard about my reputation,” he smirked.

“It’s not a reputation if you have to explain it at every turn, Lucifer. And, for your information, I’m not nervous. Just haven’t done this much lately.” She settled more comfortably into the rhythm. “You do know that I have an 8-year old, right? The only dancing I've done in years is to Disney Princess videos."

He shuddered visibly and actually missed the beat.

“And as for ravishing,” she continued, pressing her sudden advantage with a smirk of her own, “Patrick looked like he’d happily oblige you on that front if you’re so inclined.”

“Oh, I’m always inclined, Detective.” He sucked his lower lip briefly, eyes glittering. “And I already offered you front row seats for that show. Offer’s still on, of course. Audience participation welcome.”

It was her turn to laugh. “You’re so full of yourself.”

“No, I’m just used to partners who aren’t in denial about what they really want.” His expression was playful, teasing and light. “Unlike some people I could name.”

"Oh, so this is denial, is it?" She met his mischief with wry sarcasm.

"No, detective. This is dancing. Historically linked to overcoming denial, inviting deviltry, and encouraging inappropriate desires.”

"In your dreams.”

He leaned down to speak right against her ear, face taking on a particularly wolfish leer. “You have no idea what’s in my dreams, Detective.”

"You are so right,” she agreed.  “Let's keep it that way, shall we?”

Their proximity gave Chloe a chance to take in details she’d overlooked watching him at a distance earlier. The massive black eye he had sported the last time she saw him had faded to a yellowing smudge, still visible up close but healing rapidly. It was a strange reminder of their other lives, outside the club and in the field, of the things she had decided to try to trust even if she didn’t understand. The bruise seemed so out of place against the rest of his current persona—immaculate, close-fitted suit, pocket handkerchief, freshly-shaven edge of stubble along his jaw, artfully tousled hair just beginning to curl at his temples, as if sweat reminded it of its natural twisted nature. His dark red shirt was open an additional button to reveal a triangle of smooth chest—bait for Friday night partiers. Perfectly together and polished, a fine performance of his character, as always.

“You’re thinking again,” he murmured, voice still carrying to her under the music. “You’re thinking about me, which is an improvement, but you can loosen up a bit, you know. Enjoy yourself. That is, after all, the point." Raising one long-fingered hand, he started to brush back some hair that had fallen into her eyes.

She's shook her hair back on her own before he could complete the gesture. “I’m not—” she began defensively, but seeing his knowing grin, she gritted her teeth instead and stepped into him, finding that her muscles did remember some things quite well. Arms lifting, she moved against him, pushing into his space aggressively. His face registered surprise, then genuine delight, and he stopped bantering to dance. All his snappy, snarky verbosity vanished under the powerful bass of the music, the leisurely movements of his body following hers now, sharing space and time and sweat. The beat deepened and slowed, and Chloe could feel the music sliding down her spine like fire, a mirror of the hot solidity of Lucifer behind her now, folded around her, moving in sync. One of his hands rested on her stomach, a possessive gesture that she found she didn’t mind at all.

His breath whispered over the damp nape of her neck, and she could feel the smile in his voice, close to her ear.  “If that douche ex of yours didn't take you dancing regularly, he deserves to be punished. You dance diabolically, Detective."

"Thanks. I think," she replied, craning her neck to look at him. The music flowed seamlessly from one song to another and she had just leaned back into him when the phone in her pocket begin to vibrate. “Damn it. Wait a minute.” She stopped abruptly.

He stepped back, releasing her and raising his hands as if to show they were behaving themselves. “Something wrong?”

“Probably,” she replied, already distracted. “Work phone.” She fumbled the device out of her pocket, staring at the screen for a second before turning to walk away, trying to find a spot where she could hear over the music and voices.

He looked curious, following her. “Bit late for a case, isn’t it?”

“Murders don’t happen on a schedule, Lucifer. It’s actually pretty common at this hour. But this isn't...”  Chloe scrolled through the flood of new texts, heading for the staircase and the less crowded halls upstairs. She shouldered past drunken muddles of people, climbing two stairs at a time, and only looking back for Lucifer at the top.

He had stopped at the foot of the staircase, attention focused on the man she’d seen him talking so earnestly with earlier, the hipster with long, straight greying red hair. The stranger gripped Lucifer’s forearm, pulling him close, speaking fast and urgent. Lucifer’s face had darkened, his lip curling into a near snarl that had Chloe about to descend again despite the insistent messaging from the station. But Lucifer glanced up at her and waved her on, stalking off toward the bar with the stranger at his elbow.

Chloe ducked into the hallway that led to the penthouse elevator. Phone pressed to one ear and her hand covering the other, she spoke loudly. “Lieutenant? Decker. What’s this about Homicide giving Missing Persons an assist?” She listened intently. “So, what changed tonight? Can’t they—”  More listening. “No, I’m not working another case right now, but …” She sighed. “Okay, okay. Yes, ma’am. I’m on my way in a few minutes. Have them hold the briefing for me, will you?” She clicked off, slumping against the concrete wall for a moment to gather herself.

So much for her rather hapless night off, after all. Best go tell Lucifer she had been summoned to the station.

She stood at the top of the stairs, searching for him in the crowd. He and the red-haired man were standing in a circle of suspiciously empty space beneath the large Lux sign. Lucifer had propped himself against one of the tall chairs, his posture elegant and overly casual in a way that looked forced to her eyes. He flicked one hand carelessly toward the other man, a king dismissing a supplicant, but the man only closed the distance between them another step. While the stranger didn’t appear to be a threat, something made Chloe’s cop instincts begin clamoring and she quickened her pace through the crowd, automatically categorizing details of the scene as she moved.

The chairs and high tables in that entire area were vacant, as if patrons had cleared out even though Chloe couldn’t see any obvious reason for distress. The hipster stood stiffly in front of Lucifer, just within reach, his hands hanging loosely at his sides. His stance reminded her of a boxer before a match, focused, relaxed but ready. He wore an almost garish mixture of archaic clothing—black and red plaid wool duster over narrow-legged trousers and heavy combat boots. A swag of fringed maroon scarf was draped around his neck, tucked beneath his neatly trimmed beard and full, artfully waxed mustache. Even with these, his hair was his most striking feature—long, worn loose so that it fell over his shoulders in a cascade, vivid gold-red against very pale skin. Chloe would guess he was in his mid-40s, although the grizzling of both hair and beard suggested older. As she closed in behind him, slowing her steps to let Lucifer signal if he wanted privacy, she noticed that the thick red-rimmed glasses perched on the man’s nose were missing their lenses, an affectation for style rather than need. Broad-shouldered and perhaps just under six feet tall, his musculature made him seem substantially larger than Lucifer despite their height difference.

Chloe stopped several feet away when Lucifer’s eyes didn’t track to her, his gaze never leaving the other man. She took a moment to look at her sometimes-partner, too, searching for clues and not liking what she found. She had seen him turn suddenly dangerous before, just before throwing a man through plate glass, or shoving Benny Choi through his own gruesome painting, or  hauling the snow cone guy through his truck window with one brutal move. Now, she could see the outline of violence again in him, all levity and mischief absent. His dark brows were lowered, eyes shadowed and cold. Even his face seemed more angular, fierce, distant, a disturbing counterpoint to his leisurely sprawl against the chair.

In the background behind the bar, Mazikeen, too, had fixed the pair in an unblinking stare, one hand thrust into the small of her back as if toward a hidden weapon. None of the three moved, although beyond their radius the nightclub laughed and partied on, as usual.

Wary but curious, Chloe edged forward until she could hear, keeping within Lucifer’s view and behind the stranger.

“It has been a few years, after all,” the man was saying, his voice a rolling baritone, inflected with what might have been a well-faded Irish accent, like someone who immigrated to the states as a child. “We’d be remiss if we didn’t make sure you knew you were missed.”

“‘Missed’?” Lucifer scoffed. “I have not missed your lies, Sam.”

“‘Missed’ may be a strong word, yes,” the other man agreed with a quirk of his mustache. “But five years, by this reckoning, is a long vacation.”

“I’ve told you once already,” Lucifer ground out, teeth clenched around the words as if angry to be repeating himself. “I’m not on vacation. I’m out. You can make do on your own. Isn’t it what you always wanted, you and the others?”

“Some of them, yes. But I rather miss the stability. Things have not been—have not gone as smoothly without you. There is, as you’d probably guess, some dissension among us. When the cat’s away, as it were.”

“When was there not discord among you?” Lucifer looked scornful.

“True. True.” The hipster adjusted his lens-less glasses, and Chloe saw that he wore a thin gunmetal chain around his far forearm like a bracer, the end of it looped across his left hand like jewelry or a potential weapon. She felt her tension ratchet up.

Lucifer waited in silence, offering nothing.

“It is, of course, more than that,” the other man finally said. “The palace walls begin to crack with neglect. Even the Gates are not what they once were, though their lock holds. Do you know your brother patrols beyond the borders now? He’s not looking like it suits him.”

Lucifer’s face twitched with suppressed anger. “I care nothing for what he may be doing. Nor for the state of the realm. It’s no longer any of my concern. Nor are you. Go home, Sam. Tell the others whatever you wish.” He grimaced. “And tell Aza to stop lurking. I do not appreciate being stalked.”

A smaller jackal of a man crept out of the crowd behind Chloe, dressed like he had come straight from a steampunk convention—square, low top hat with feathers, a brocade waistcoat and pocket watch over a dark wide-sleeved shirt and trousers. His patchy beard and small, pale eyes made him look like a dandified dissolute. As he passed, he bumped her shoulder hard as if he didn’t see her standing in his path or, more likely, didn’t care to step aside. “My lord,” the newcomer bowed while still in transit, the gesture practiced and, to Chloe’s eyes, full of obsequious pretense.

“Not anymore.” Lucifer pushed himself upright, scowling. He towered over the other man who seemed to shy aside. “Don’t pretend you haven’t heard every word.”

“Beg pardon, lord. This den you’ve created is—ah, most overwhelming to one such as I,” Aza muttered, gaze averted, shoulders slightly hunched as if expecting a blow. “So much lust, so much longing and greed and hunger.” He dragged the back of one hand across his thin lips. “It is a bit much to take after so long in the Malebolge.”

The hair on the back of Chloe’s neck lifted, prickling. What the hell? Was this second man high on something? Her fingers slid toward her hip and her absent gun instinctively, noticing that the two had positioned themselves too close and just to either side of Lucifer, positions she would read as threatening on the street, like a pair of wolves flanking their prey.  

Lucifer, however, shoved his hands into his pockets and looked supremely unconcerned, staring down his nose at them. “Let me be very clear, then. I am not going home ever again. And you are not welcome here where your own proclivities might get in my way. Either of you. I don’t care how you found your way up, and I care even less about where you go. You are no longer my concern. You never were.”

“But your mighty works!” the little man wheedled. “The bonefires of Effrul, the basalt causeway of Tartarus, the pain fields and the pit itself! Surely these—”

“Are yours for the taking, if you wish them!” Lucifer spat, anger finally breaking through. “Argue with each other, bite and scrabble in the ash for morsels! But leave me out of it.”

The one called Sam reached out pale, blunt fingers to his colleague, stroking along his shoulder in a gesture Chloe found more creepy than comforting. “Enough, Aza. Respect the Morningstar’s wishes.”

Aza twitched and dropped his eyes.

Sam looked calmly at Lucifer for long minutes, as if seeking some visible way around the hostility despite his own words. He lifted his chain-adorned hand as if he would reach out to him as well, but Lucifer bared his teeth slightly, kohl-eyed stare going flat and empty.

“I assume you can find your way out of the club,” Lucifer growled, drawing himself up to his full height to look icily down at them both. “After all, you and I have no more reason to treat. And my demon grows too excitable at the prospect of seeing you again.”  He nodded toward Mazikeen behind him without shifting his gaze.

“My lord,” Aza whispered again, fingering the brim of his hat like a street urchin from a Dickens novel. Sam waited a moment longer, inspecting Lucifer in great detail, then nodded and turned, taking his partner by the elbow and leading the way toward the street exit.

Lucifer watched them go, head high until they were up the stairs and out of sight.

Then, he turned to Chloe as if nothing had happened. The air of violence and authority fell away, discarded as easily as an actor stepping out of a role at the end of a scene. “So? What was it, then? Do we have an exciting late-night case?” he said brightly.

She stared at him, frowning. “What was that?”

He waved the question away. “Minor inconvenience. Just enough to get in the way of an otherwise delightful evening.”

She wasn’t convinced and let it show in her face.

He pointed to her pocket where she had stuffed her phone. “I suspect something else is also about to get in the way of our returning to the dance floor. Tell me it’s at least interesting?”

Chloe studied him, discomfited by the total change of persona, like he was two completely different men. If the briefing team wasn’t waiting for her at the station just now, she’d pursue it. But since they were, she gave in. “There’s been a rash of missing persons cases that have gone unsolved for the last couple of weeks. Nearly 40 people. All vanished from waterfront properties in the city. Missing Persons wants Homicide to join the search since they’re expecting this to become our jurisdiction soon enough, and they need the manpower.”

Lucifer groaned. “Sounds shockingly dull. How disappointing.”

“Maybe to you,” she said sharply. “Not so much to their families, I’d expect.”

Heaving an audible sigh, he meandered away toward the bar.

“Does that mean you’ll sit this one out?” she called after him. She had hoped he might come along so she could question him further about this “minor inconvenience.” Based on what she had heard, she’d wager those two men were from Lucifer’s mysterious life prior to his five years of accessible records. People who wanted to touch base with him and who had even worked with or for him. Who were they? Where were they—and he—from? What kind of work had they done? It certainly didn’t sound like running a nightclub. Did they even know how threatening and creepy they came across, or was that, too, part of the skills that Lucifer had once perhaps found useful? It was impossible to overlook the weird, but highly consistent, “devil” vernacular used by everyone Lucifer dealt with from his past, as well.  She recognized “Tartarus” from one of those school-assigned Greek or Latin translations, Dante or Milton or someone. What sort of quasi-legal things took place in “pain fields and the pit?” she wondered.

She couldn’t help but also wonder if all those potential questions, as much as the case being “dull,” had triggered Lucifer’s sudden apathy.

“Mm, yes. I think so, for now,” he replied, accepting a tumbler of dark liquid from Mazikeen. “When the bodies turn up, though, let me know? I don’t expect to sleep for many, many hours yet.” His smirk seemed subdued this time, even a little dismissive.

She shook her head and hurried toward the stairs. “Fine. Whatever.”

 


 

 

“You let them go.” Mazikeen’s eyes had followed Lucifer’s pet detective out of view before she focused on her boss, pouring him a second round by touch alone.

He tossed the drink back effortlessly and pushed the glass toward her again. “I did. How observant of you, Maze.” His voice was tight, the planes of his face catching more shadows than should have been natural.

The demon inhaled deeply, savoring the subtle taste of brimstone and burning flesh in the air, drawn to the darkness that now lay close beneath the surface of the fallen archangel before her. Although the appearance of the two “men” raised all sorts of alarms, she couldn't help but revel when Lucifer was reminded that he was still the Lord of Hell, when his hold on his human shape loosened and teased the beautiful beast beneath. Her fingertips traced the veins at the back of his hand, sliding just inside his cuff to feel the searing heat of blood coursing just below the thin skin of his wrist. “My lord,” she murmured reverently.

“No!” He pulled away, seizing the bottle to pour himself another drink. “Not you, too. Here, I’m just Lucifer bloody Morningstar, retired and with no plans to resume that throne. Ever. Burned my wings, Maze. Doesn’t get more final than that.”

“Then why let them go? Killing them would be more efficient.”

He shook his head. “We walked free, Maze. Why should I deny that to others of our fellows?”

She snorted. “You have no fellowship with them. Nor do I. In fact, any of the Lilim would have their balls in a vice and their skin for our boots, if you would but let us.” She leaned across the bar as if teasing a kiss. “Let me?”

He smirked, darkly amused. “No, my best and most terrible fiend. I meant what I said. They’re not my responsibility—and therefore not yours, either. Ignore them. Satisfy yourself in other ways. Patrick was quite revved up earlier. That might make for a good after-party tonight, eh?”

She frowned. He was too casual about this invasion of his earthly territory, especially now when his very immortality seemed to be weakening. He had begun courting risk, pursuing danger for the excitement of it, and the demon wondered if this were just another variation on that wearisome and troubling theme. “You’re not what you were, and right now we don’t know why,” she insisted, snatching the bottle back from him. “This mortality thing means you need to be cautious.”

“I am cautious, Maze,” he grinned, meeting her concerns with flirtation. “We can use protection if we must.”

“I’m serious, Lucifer.” She grasped his wrist again, this time in a grip meant to demand attention, nails biting into his skin. “You believe them when they claim they just came to say hello? They crossed an impossible threshold to get here! Can you even say how?”

His eyes narrowed, and she felt tendons cord beneath her fingers as his hand closed into a fist. “Do not presume, Mazikeen. I appreciate that you’ve thrown your lot in with me on this adventure, and that you’ve protected my less-than-immortal ass, but you will remember your place.”

Tightening her grip stubbornly, she showed sharp white teeth. “I do. And I will do what is necessary to fulfill my place whether it pleases you or not. You did not bring me through the Gates to lay down at your feet.”

“No, that I did not,” he mused, relaxing again much to her disappointment. “Never fear, Maze. There has never been trust between them and me, as you know better than anyone. I know they are not here just to check in, and they certainly don’t want me to return to Hell. If we wait, they will reveal themselves and their methods in time.”

“It’s poor strategy to wait on them to act first. We should—”

“We will wait for them to misstep, Maze,” he repeated firmly. He cupped her chin in one hand, fingers strong but cool again against her skin. “Patience, my General. Either they will go back to Hell to divide the spoils or they won’t. I’m almost curious.”

"Patience is a virtue. And I'm a demon,” Mazikeen said flatly. "I’m afflicted with neither that nor curiosity, which is why I've survived to serve you. Your curiosity is going to get you hurt, Lucifer. Or worse.”

He laughed and spun away from her, heading toward the piano. “Sounds like fun.”

Chapter Text

Lucifer appeared at the station in the late afternoon, looking bright-eyed, well-rested, and meticulously pressed, exactly the opposite of how Chloe felt. She lifted her head off her arms and stared up at him wearily. “Oh, so now you decide to come in,” she groused, pushing herself upright in her chair and feeling her neck and shoulder muscles protest painfully.

He beamed at her. “I assume I haven't missed much. The case didn’t sound particularly invigorating when you described it. And Lux ran a bit later than usual this morning. There were stragglers. Several of them.” His grin suggested that those stragglers had found some added entertainment, probably upstairs in his penthouse bedroom.

Chloe raised a quelling hand. “Stop. I do not need to know any details.”

“Leave it to your imagination?” He looked intrigued. “Do you often imagine what I’m up to after hours, Detective? Pun intended.”

“Hardly.” Seeing the amused gleam in his eyes, she sighed, too tired to feel flustered by him. “Right. I said ‘hard.’ You really are twelve.”

He chuckled, irritatingly smug.

Stretching, she rolled her head from side to side, popping vertebrae audibly. “Well, all I’m imagining right now is getting some sleepalone,” she added when he opened his mouth to comment. “Which isn’t yet a possibility. So, instead, I’m going to get another cup of coffee and go talk to the latest family reporting a missing person. There was a new one just this afternoon. Missing Persons can’t seem to catch a break, so neither can idle Homicide detectives.”

Lucifer leaned down to peer into her face, brow furrowed. She could imagine him taking in what she looked like this morning, tousled hair caught up in a messy half-bun, dark circles beneath her eyes from lack of sleep and the stresses of working cases for another unit, her clothes from last night unchanged, wrinkled, andshe glanced down at herselfslightly coffee-stained.

“Right,” he said decisively. “I don’t think that your horrible station swill is going to be enough of a pick-me-up, given what I’m seeing. I could offer something more potent, a quick hit of whatever your preferred substance?”

“You are not offering a police officer drugs in the middle of a police station,” she said flatly.

“Of course not,” he lied, smooth and obvious. “I’m offering to drive, first of all. You seem like you might be a hazard behind the wheel just now, and as my immortality seems to be on the fritz, it’s best not to take chances. And I’m offering to stop at Beelzebean on the way to wherever you need to go next.” He straightened, pleased with himself.

His little-boy pride made her laugh. Had he actually just looked at her, taken a measure of what she seemed to need, and then offered to support her through the next steps of her interminable day? His rare moments of thoughtfulness always took her by surprise, and, vexingly, made her wonder if she should feel badly for suspecting ulterior motives. “Yeah. Okay. Drive if you want. But I’ll warn you, it’s going to be boring by your standards.”

“So is restocking the Lux bar,” he shrugged, rattling his car keys in invitation.

She grabbed her jacket and the case folder and followed him to the elevator.

 


 

Chloe wondered if she had dozed off as soon as she fastened her seatbelt. It seemed no more than a few minutes before the rumble of the little sports car stilled, and she was stepping groggily out onto the sidewalk in front of the popular coffeehouse. How had Lucifer managed to find parking practically on Sunset Boulevard on a Saturday afternoon? She wished she hadn’t slept through that trick. “You know, I’m not sure people are likely to take me seriously as a cop after seeing me riding shotgun in this mid-life crisis.”

“‘61 Chevrolet Corvette,” he corrected indignantly. “A classic, like its owner.”

“So, form over substance?” she suggested, just to ruffle his feathers. “I see.”

“0 to 60 in under 3 seconds, actually, thanks to a few tweaks,” he argued, looking pleasingly insulted. “Very useful in L.A. traffic, I’ll have you know.”

“Mm. No doubt legal tweaks,” she said, giving the gleaming black car another glance. It was a stylish thing and probably cost more than her annual salary.

Pocketing his keys, Lucifer joined her on the sidewalk. “Why do you cops creep around in those clunky, nondescript mom-mobiles? I mean, what happens when you’re chasing criminals who drive things like this?”

She ignored him. “Is your license plate really ”Fallen One”? You definitely take this whole devil thing very seriously.”

“I didn’t have much of a choice in the matter, actually.”

“Ah. Right.”

“But I have realized that notoriety isn’t always a bad thing. Surely you get that, given the general corruption of the police these days?”

“We’re not all corrupt, Lucifer,” she grumbled.

“I know!” he responded cheerily. “Believe me, I’ve noticed. Right from our very first case together. Your Palmetto theories notwithstanding, clearly at least some of the LAPD are on the side of the angels. Proverbially, of course. Angels aren’t necessarily good, after all. That’s just PR.”

“So, fallen angels? Like you, supposedly.”

He looked uncomfortable for a moment. “I’m rather a complex case, I think. It rather depends on your definition of good and baddespite what your denuded biblical mistranslations say. But that’s not my point. How often do people see your badge and assume you’re hot-tempered and dangerous? You know, the ‘bad cop’ side of the equation?”

“Not that oft” she began.

“Come to think of it, you’re probably not the best example, are you?” he interrupted. “After all, I’ve seen you wield your gun, Detective. They wouldn’t be far from wrong, in your case.” He rubbed his long-healed bullet graze pointedly.

“No more talking,” she said firmly. “You promised me coffee. And I need it before I can listen to you.”

He followed her into the bright, sunlit coffee shop which, as usual, teemed with people hogging their little bit of table space, laptop keyboards clattering or elbow to elbow in conversation. She stood hazily in line and annoyed herself by being conscious of how her jacket hid both the badge and gun on her belt. In an effort to think about something other than public perceptions of police and corruption in the department, she read the garishly painted logo sign over the menu board. “Black as the devil. Hot as hell.” She poked Lucifer’s shoulder. “No wonder you like this place.”

He sniffed disdainfully. “Maze likes it. More for the air of desperation, I think, but they also pour an acceptable espresso. Still, you have to admit it’s truth in advertising. The Devil does indeed look good in black.” He fingered his well-tailored jacket, smooth black Italian wool over an equally sharp black shirt.

Chloe kept her face unimpressed, despite agreeing that yes, the black-haired, almost black-eyed “devil” did indeed rock the finest black bespoke.

He seemed to sense her regard anyway and leaned in with a flirtatious “He’ll let you judge how hot, if you like?”

The barista clearly had opinions on that front. Chloe ordered her large Americano three times and cleared her throat with authority twice before the young woman blinked and hauled her eyes away from Lucifer’s lean, dark figure. He ordered with suave alacrity and a charming smile, then steered the detective to a tiny table just inside the front windows with a view of the bustling pedestrian walkway. Chloe watched passers by stop to point out Lucifer’s car. A homeless man, thin and gangly in a worn grey Henley and ripped jeans, stopped to touch the hood with reverent fingers, even wiping an invisible smudge from the door with his stained sleeve.

“So, the case?” Lucifer prompted.

Chloe sat back, realizing that she’d been staring out the window for a few minutes in silence. Sleep-deprivation had never been a strong working mode.  Rubbing her eyes tiredly, she propped her elbows on the table. “Right. I told you last night about what Missing Persons is dealing with. Nearly 40 people, all vanished from beachfront and port properties without a trace.”

“All reported in the last two weeks?” he offered from memory.

“And the number is rising almost daily.” She pushed the case file across the table toward him. “This one came in about two hours ago. Given it’s location, there’s a chance it’s also part of this, despite being a juvenile.” When he tilted his head slightly but didn’t reach for the file, she explained. “All the other cases that might be connected are adults. This is the first missing kid across all of the waterfront area in recent weeks.”

“And that’s unusual?”

“Maybe. There are over 3000 missing adults reported each year in LA alone and almost as many kids. More, if you include those missing from the many smaller cities we surround. Most of them turn up quickly, and many even turn out to be voluntary disappearances, people who just choose to run-away from their lives for a while. That's typical for adults and juveniles both.”

“Ah, the denizens L.A.,” he said. “The desire to get away from who we were seems to be a common enough motivation.”

“Yeah. Definitely.” Less exhausted, she might have pursued that admission and its connection to events of the previous night. For now, however, she needed to focus on the case. “That means it usually doesn’t take too long to unearth a lead or even solve a missing persons case. Canvass the hospitals, the homeless shelters, the coroner’s offices and morgues, just to be sure, but a few conversations with family, friends and co-workers usually yields some kind of lead. These last two weeks, every missing person reported within a few blocks of the water has turned up not a single clue about where they might have gone. MPU has every cop working these cases, save two or three who are pursuing those from other parts of the city and surrounds. Those guys say everything seems normal outside of the waterfront. Within that area, however, they have nothing. Literally nothing. And after comparing notes with the MPU officers from Malibu to South Bay, it seems like we’re not the only ones wondering if this is a pattern.”

Lucifer nodded. She could tell that he wasn’t especially interested but seemed to be making an effort, nevertheless. When his espresso came, he downed it like a shot of whiskey, one quick toss before it even had time to cool.

Chloe pried the lid off of her cup and settled in to wait until it was a drinkable temperature. Hot as hell, indeed. “One of the more frustrating aspects of working with Missing Persons is that there’s every likelihood all of these folks will turn up on their own. It could be that they all went to the same underground convention or party or something. The fact that there haven’t been juvenile cases before actually adds to that.”

“Ooo, you mean they’ve all gone off to do something naughty that they don’t want their loved ones to know about, like a penchant for breath play and leather?” Lucifer brightened. “I thought you said this was going to be boring, Detective. You should’ve started there! I might even have contacts that could help us run down a lead like that.”

“Or,” she continued, focusing on her coffee and pretending he wasn’t actually talking, “it could be far more nefarious.”

“Naughty or nefarious,” he said with relish. “Or maybe both. This is improving every minute. Keep talking.”

“Unfortunately, nefarious begins to look more like the right answer when we haven’t been able to find a single connection between cases,” she pushed on, blowing on the surface of the dark liquid before taking a test sip and scalding her tongue. “If even some of the missing people had common interests or contacts, then they might point to a reason for them to all go AWOL at roughly the same time. But so far, they seem to be unique cases, except for location. Even that ranges across miles of waterfront properties and includes everything from residential neighborhoods to commercial areas to storage warehouses and the docks. By most measures, it’s hardly even a viable connection. Long Beach seems to be the most common, but just barely. It’s all we have to work with.”

“But your Lieutenant thinks it’s likely to become a more serious crime than people simply sneaking off for a little BDSM action at a pop-up fetish club?”

“Seems so,” she said, finally getting some caffeine moving into her system. “And I choose to believe that you're joking about there being pop-up BDSM clubs. If you say anything to damage that belief, I shall shoot you—again—without hesitation or regret.”

He looked innocently back at her, but then couldn’t seem to help himself. “So, that’s a ‘no’ to playing bad cop after hours, Detective?” he murmured.

She prided herself on ignoring him and continued more seriously. “Random, numerous, complete disappearances begin to look like the work of a serial killer or a gang attempting some sort of coup. Which is why detectives from both Homicide and Gangs and Narcotics have been called in as fresh eyes. Partly for the manpower, partly to begin laying the groundwork in case of potential dead bodies or other criminal action.”

“Ah, so multiple ways it might get more exciting. But not yet?”

“Not yet. And you can stop looking so hopeful about possible murders, you creep.”

Lucifer watched her sipping determinedly at her coffee with that peculiar curious intensity he sometimes employed, as if expecting her to catch fire or reveal the secrets of the universe. “So, you spent all night and most of today duplicating the efforts of your colleagues? No wonder you’re drained. All that pointless effort. All that dullness.” He tsked. “Not that I could promise you would have gotten any more sleep if you’d stayed at Lux, but it would have been more—ah, stimulating.”

She held her quickly emptying paper cup close to her, letting its warmth seep into her fingers and chest, imagining it beginning to chase away some of the weary heaviness out of her muscles and mind. “It’s been a night of interviewing other detectives and pouring over case files, yes. Not that I’ve been able to see anything that they haven’t already considered.”

“I’m sure you will. You usually have superior instincts to your colleagues, I’ve found. And now you’ve got my help, too.”

She smiled and drained her cup, warmed as much by his confidence as she was by the coffee. “And we’d better get started on that. The new report is a 17 year old male, Peter Gross—”

“Unfortunate name.”

“—last seen at the Venice Beach skatepark around sunrise yesterday. His family didn’t think anything about him keeping odd hours, but when he didn’t show up for some informal  skater competition this afternoon, his girlfriend called it in. The detectives in MPU are already run off their feet, so I agreed to take this one for now and do the preliminary work-up. We can start with his family.”

Lucifer flipped open the file and glanced down at the boy’s photo. “Looks like an ad for acne cream and discount piercings. Not sure why they’d even want to have this child returned. Seems a great opportunity to get out from under that particular burden, if you ask me.”

Chloe snatched the file back. “Are you serious?”

“Yes?” he answered, a little cautiously. “Why wouldn’t I be? After all, you have offspring. You understand their basic parasitical nature.”

She bit back the words that formed on her lips, aware that her barely caffeinated brain probably wasn’t going to give her an appropriately cutting retort. This was Lucifer Morningstar, after all, a man who said ludicrous and offensive things about once every three minutes. He was also her ride for the day.

“How is seventeen still a juvenile, anyway?” Lucifer continued, once back behind the wheel of his car and they were speeding along toward Venice Beach.  He spoke loudly over the road noise, wind snatching at their hair and clothes, whisking his words away. “And you humans wonder why your spawn don’t get out and start earning their own living before they’re 30 these days.”

Chloe rested her head back against the seat for a minute before shouting back. “Promise me you won’t say stupid things like that when we’re talking with his parents!”

“What?” he echoed, but his rather arch smile told her he had heard perfectly.

Questioning the family at their meticulously manicured and restored craftsman home in Oakwood proved largely unenlightening, except to confirm her suspicions that they had mostly given up expecting their wayward son to amount to anything. Despite attending some of the best private schools in the city, he spent most of his time on his skateboard or playing skater video games in his room, which looked to be a typical teen’s cluttered wreck. A brief shuffle through his belongings turned up nothing out of the ordinary—unused school books, scattered small gears and other skater paraphernalia, discarded gaming devices, and (thanks to Lucifer) a few well-worn porn magazines crammed beneath a loose board under his bed.The parents had looked scandalized, and Chloe had to shove Lucifer out the door to cut off his efforts to complement them on the boy’s taste for print porn in the age of easy internet access. She had literally closed the front door on his suggestion that their do-nothing kid could actually have a lucrative career in the pornography industry, after all.

In spite of Lucifer-inspired embarrassment, the family had at least been able to provide descriptions of his girlfriend (a “too old for him,” “beach bleach blonde dropout” who “fantasized she was going to make it as some kind of dancer”) and his friends (“skate punks” with “bad families” who were “bad influences”). Chloe asked them to text her a few more photos, and got the sense that they had no idea what routine their son kept, especially on days when he skipped school--as he had most of the previous week. Despite their general estrangement, they had still cried at the door as Chloe was leaving, begging her to find their only child.

Lucifer tutted, waiting impatiently for her back in his car. “I just don’t see the problem. I mean, it’s not like they just can’t make more.”

Chloe looked sidelong at him as she buckled her seat belt. “What does that mean?”

“You misplace one apparently worthless kid or he takes off into the wild urban jungle on his own, fine. Humans are all about the procreation, so they can just make another one. Why all the fuss?”

Chloe gritted her teeth, exhaling slowly through her nose. “I can’t even talk to you right now. Will you just drive to the skatepark before I decide I need to walk?”

“What did I say? Over 7 billion humans on the planet these days. Clearly production isn’t a problem.” He revved the engine a few times and whisked them into the crush of end-of-day traffic, dodging slower cars with a casual one-handed grip on the wheel. “I actually commend you for not popping out several more with Detective Douche, by the way. Stopping with just one at least shows some concern about the quality of the human gene pool. I mean, how ever did you decide to be the mother of his children?”

Chloe was pretty sure he could hear her sputtering even over the road noise, but he ignored it, continuing earnestly. “Sometimes I worry about your taste in men, Detective. Although that would explain why you’re so reluctant to sleep with me.”

She cut him off with quick slash of her hand. “No. No!” Glowering, she found it easy to shout over the wind this time. “Those people have lost a child, Lucifer. Just because you don’t understand doesn’t mean it’s not serious for them. And what I do with my personal life isn’t part of this investigation, so I’ll thank you to leave me and Dan out of it!”

He glanced sideways at her. “Touchy. Sore spot, Detective?”

She folded her arms over her chest and watched the traffic in stony silence. Unexpectedly, Lucifer seemed to take the hint. After a few minutes, he flicked on the radio and beat out a garage blues rhythm on the wheel for the rest of the trip.

They rolled into a parking lot near the park, tires gritting on the sand. As he cut the engine, Lucifer turned to her looking a bit chastened, but Chloe lifted a finger to stop him. “I think perhaps you need to sit this one out for now. I’m really not in the mood to talk to you or navigate your—” She flailed a hand at him, at a loss for words.

“‘Luciferness’?” He supplied with a put-upon expression.

“Yes. That.”  She peered through the windscreen down across the beach and onto the concrete moonscape of the skate park. “The family said his friends usually spend every day after school here until late.” She squinted, watching groups of teens and twenty-somethings standing or skating, boards flying off the edges of ramps, bodies tumbling hard when a trick failed. “There. Bright blond hair, just sitting on the steps with a few guys, right in the way of other skaters but no one seems bothered.”

Lucifer clicked his tongue appreciatively. “That’s the girlfriend, you think? Didn’t they say she wanted to be a dancer? When you’re finished with all your boring questions, ask her if she wants a job at Lux, will you? I’ve got use for that.”

Chloe slammed the car door without responding and stalked off across the sand to the park.

“No?” he called after her. “I’m just trying to help!”

 


 

Lucifer stared after her, nonplussed. While he wasn’t particularly interested in what the blonde or those rolling accidents she called friends had to say, he did enjoy watching the Detective work up close. And he was rather curious if she’d pass along the job offer. Maze could work with an athletic figure like that, even if her skills weren’t yet up to par, and the demon had been complaining recently about the turnover of Lux’s dance staff this season.

He wandered over to the edge of the skate park, eyeing the young humans who soared and clattered and crashed with vigor. Didn’t the hospitals have enough to do with gang violence and drug addicts without these idiots adding broken limbs and missing teeth to the mix?  Most of the skaters wore their trousers sagging around their hips like penguins on high-speed icebergs. Fashion accident, indeed. He supposed the tattoo parlors along the strip were putting their own spawn through college off all that ink and all those piercings, at least, so that was something. 

Lucifer scuffed across the sand to peruse some of the graffiti walls and noted CCTV cameras scattered down the walkway and perched high in several of the many palm trees around the park. Worth mentioning to the Detective when she was talking to him again.

Idle and a bit annoyed at being banished to the sidelines after he’d been so helpful today, he leaned against one of the palms closest to the edge of the concrete basins and ramps and watched the detective confront the gaggle of youth on the steps. She was silhouetted against the stone and sand, her stance authoritative but approachable, one hand resting briefly on the young woman’s shoulder in a move he suspected was less calculated and more instinctive, inviting confidences. Admirable, really, in someone who lacked innate powers of persuasion. Of course, he could have cut the effort down to nothing if she just wasn’t so bloody short-tempered about some things.

This is what you gave up the infernal throne for, Morningstar?” came a low and faintly incredulous voice from behind his left shoulder.

Controlling the instinct to whip around, Lucifer rested his head back against the tree, pulling confidence around himself like armor. “Samyaza,” he said flatly, more acknowledgement than greeting. “And Azazyel, too. You lads are spending a rather lot of time together. Something you’re trying to tell me?”

He could feel them moving up to either side of him, their tainted presence intensely familiar, conjuring unwelcome memories of his home for the past several billion years. The sea breeze suddenly seemed a pale imitation of the sulfuric winds that scoured the courtyards of Tartarus, the salt air newly pungent with charred hair and bone, the screams of laughter from park observers echoing with the guttural, broken, never-ending cries of damned and tortured souls. Impassive, unmoving, Lucifer cast his eyes up into the pale sunlit sky and waited.

He knew they were staring around the busy skatepark, boardwalk, and beach, their distaste for what they saw palpable in their silence. Finally, Samyaza’s rumbling baritone repeated, “For this, you abandoned Hell, the great palace of Dis, all your subjects, all your many endeavors.” Not a question this time, but spoken with an undercurrent of disbelief. “We heard the rumors, of course, but scarcely credited them.”

Lucifer cut his eyes over at the red-haired man. Sam was still clad in his plaid duster and scarf from last night, his heavy boots looking hot and uncomfortable in the sand. At least, Lucifer had to admit, the hipster attire wasn’t so out of place in this neighborhood, probably even less so than his own. “Surprises you, does it? It shouldn’t,” he replied shortly. “I was weary of Hell, so I left. It’s not rocket science. You, of everyone, know that I have ever demanded to choose my own way, eschewing order and routine for freedom.” He looked away again. “Besides, I find the company to be much improved on this plane.”

The smaller man, Azazyel, circled like a shark, peering at the landscape, at the humans going about their rituals and activities, even at the tree at Lucifer’s back. Lucifer couldn’t fault him for his air of confusion as people flung themselves pell-mell across concrete obstacles, careened down stair rails on the pointless wheeled boards, and narrowly avoided shattering their skulls or slamming into onlookers at every turn. Aza removed his hat after a minute, running his nails through thinning hair, puzzled and aghast. He looked back and forth from the skaters to Lucifer a few times, pale eyes wide. “This is what you do with your valuable time, lord?”

“Told you before, Aza. Not your lord. Not here. Not now. Not ever.”

The little man grimaced as if in pain. “Everywhere. Always. Forever. The Devil reigns over Hell and the Fallen for time everlasting.”

“Obviously not.” Lucifer looked at him with a hint of disgust. “And what I do with my time has never been a subject for your concern.”

Aza fumbled with the hat in his hands, plucking at the feathers with unsteady fingers. “But, lord, this is unseemly. It makes no sense. It is beneath your dignity.”

Lucifer sighed, long-suffering. Gods below, he hated the gentry of Hell. Give him demonkind or humans any day.

“You are the Prince of Darkness,” Azazyel continued, voice high and nervous. He waved the hat around in a wild, all-inclusive gesture that took in everything from people to sky. “What would you need of this place or these creatures when you have all the wretched souls of history at your fingertips and for your pleasure?”

“We never found pleasure in the same things, I think,” Lucifer said dryly.

“But you choose to consort with these specks?” Another gesticulation of the hat. “They appear, draw breath, soil their souls beyond redeeming, and then die in the space of a minute to us. What delight is there in that? How are they worthy of an instant of your time?”

“Those ‘specks’ might surprise you, Aza, if you gave them that instant of your precious time.” Lucifer bridled a little, surprised at his own response on humanity’s behalf. Perhaps it was because he could still see Detective Decker just beyond the little man, now speaking intently to other teens across the park, showing them her phone. Probably the boy’s rather unimpressive photo. “Yes, some of them can be far more intriguing than I first imagined, too,” he added, thoughtful.

“But—but—” Azazyel’s overwrought stammer had always grated on Lucifer’s nerves. “But you are the Ancient Enemy, appointed by your Father Himself—”

“Appointed?” Lucifer growled, pushing away from the palm tree. “What part of your own fiery fall from the heavens felt like appointment and not like punishment, Aza?”

“Even so, even so,” the little man whined, flinching hard and stepping quickly back. “The Great Work. The task . . .” He trailed away, muttering incoherently, staring at the hat in his hands.

“He’s not wrong, even if you’d have us think otherwise,” Samyaza spoke again. He pulled his long hair back, knotting it into a tail as if to keep it from tangling in the sea breeze, eyes on Lucifer as he did so. “Your story is not ours. Your Father cursed and bound us. But to you he gave a task, a throne, a very plane of existence, a divine purpose—”

“—which I’ve finished with now,” Lucifer snapped, interrupting. “What’s this about, Sam? My Father didn’t send you. Wouldn’t have even deigned to acknowledge any of you. What do you care about what I do?”

Samyaza flipped his coat open and hooked his thumbs into his pockets, a picture of utter indifference. “I’ve never cared what you did, Morningstar. But Hell is my home, and it’s missing its Master. What? You imagined that everything would function as usual without you? With the throne empty and unclaimed?”

“I imagined nothing. I … don’t … care enough to spare the thought,” Lucifer enunciated carefully. “You seem to be missing my point, and you, at least, are not usually that stupid.”

“No, not stupid. But I am proud, a trait that all of the Fallen share, I think you’ll agree. Proud of the work I’ve done in the service of the Adversary, that is to say, in your service. I am proud of what we created together. Why aren’t you?”

“What we created?” Lucifer laughed, mirthless and nasty. “What creation was there in Hell? My Father holds the demiurgus for Himself and Michael alone.”

“You know what I mean.” Sam’s words were clearly meant to sound placating, but somehow missed the mark, falling flat and distant.

“I know that the humans took the raw materials of Effrul and twisted the red sands into a wonderland of tortures, layer after layer of hideous, protracted nightmare.”  Lucifer glanced at Aza again, who was still muttering to himself. “Your bonefires and pain fields. The monstrous devices of the Malebolge. Judecca’s frozen waste. Azazyel! Are you listening? That isn’t creation, you pathetic sods, that is just the manifestation of what humans require to torture themselves, to fortify their sad, scrambling efforts to purify their own depraved souls.” He snorted. “As if the Silver City were any more fun. As if it were worth all that pain.”

Samyaza watched him closely over the rim of his glasses with a serpent’s unblinking gaze. “Tell me, Lucifer, when did the Lord of Hell lose his pride?”

“My pride?” Lucifer was taken aback for a moment.

“Your reputation, then. When did it become acceptable for the Devil Himself to abandon the Great Work and allow it to slip into festering ruin? Even if he no longer finds fulfillment in the task, what would cause him to let millennia of effort fall to naught?”

He ,” Lucifer adopted the other man’s the third person reference, sneering, “is surprised that some of the Fallen haven’t annihilated each other in desperate efforts to claim the vacant throne. If the state of the realm matters so dearly to you, Sam, why aren’t you there, shoring up the fault lines and retooling it to your tastes? My presence matters not a whit.”  He paused, thinking. “Unless. . .”

Both men looked at him now, preternaturally still.

Lucifer considered. He didn’t believe for a minute that Hell was sorely missing him or falling apart without him. It had existed before him, if in an admittedly different form, and it would continue without him. What was there to fall apart, after all? Hell was chaos, desperation, unrefined and shattered, an ever-evolving landscape shaped by the damned souls that poured through the one-way Gates.

Azazyel interrupted his thoughts, finally refocused. He hurried forward, cramming his hat on his head. “My lord,” he pleaded. “You waste your gifts here in this land!”

“My gifts?” Lucifer barked a laugh. “Being Hell’s overlord? Overrated, I’m telling you. You’ve seen Lux, my new “den,” as I think you called it. It is enough to manage in my retirement and much more fun. What other gifts? Ah, yes. Punishing bad people. Well, I’ve been surprised at the opportunities that arise even here.” His eyes flicked again toward the Detective, now on the farthest side of the skatepark with the blonde woman, again.

“But Lightbringer, Lord of the Morning!” the little man continued, ever more frantic, but something in his pale eyes, like in Samyaza’s words, hinted at performance more than earnest entreaty. “Hell expires without you!”

Lucifer’s lip curled in a wicked half-smile. “Then let it.”

Closing the distance in a short rush, Aza clutched at Lucifer’s sleeve with both hands. “What would your Father think?”

“I’d advise you not to speak of my Father to me,” Lucifer snarled, wrenching his arm away, a hint of flame igniting behind his dark eyes. “I doubt sincerely he thinks about any of us—or any of them—” he gestured at the humans around them—”at all. What would he think? He wouldn’t.”

Samyaza glared at his companion and the other man seemed to shrink in on himself, tucking his hands into his pockets self-consciously. “Apologies, Morningstar. Aza has not adapted well to the stresses of these environs.”

Lucifer sighed, suddenly weary. “Then what is it you hope to achieve by coming here?”

Sam turned to him, gaze direct, tone matter-of-fact. “I should think that was abundantly clear by now. Your return to Hell.”

“Not gonna happen,” Lucifer answered immediately. “Not sure how much more clearly I can put that for you, pal.”

Samyaza shifted his stance slightly, rolling his shoulders. “So I’m beginning to understand. You have truly turned your back on all you stand for? You have no stake in the Great Work, after all?”

“I have chosen my own path. I won't follow dear old Dad’s plan any longer. And, quite frankly, I suggest you do the same. You seem to have found your own way topside. Look around you. Lighten up. Enjoy it!”

The other man looked away, scowling now, his stoic facade cracking. “It is so easy for you. We are not free, as you know well.”  Abruptly, he held up his left arm, displaying the burnished chain bracer, its links looped over his hand and running between each finger. Even in the brilliant late afternoon sunlight, its surface seemed unnaturally dull, resisting reflection. Beside him, Aza fingered his pocket watch chain. It, too, lay shadowed and heavy against his waistcoat.

“You’re here, aren’t you?” Lucifer said. “Free enough.”

“This from the advocate of freedom and free will?” Dropping his hand, Samyaza sneered. “Will you break our chains, then, Lucifer Morningstar? Let the Grigori be as unfettered as you are? For unlike you, archangel, we remain tethered beyond the Gates by your Father’s word.”

Lucifer tensed, eyes narrowing. “Not within my power.”

“Nor was leaving Hell. Once.”

“Times change. You have managed that much yourself--or as good as.”

“Hardly. We are here only briefly, our actions curtailed on this plane. Unlike you, it seems, we must return to Hell.”

Lucifer drew himself up, squaring his shoulders. “I cannot undo a command laid into the foundation of the antediluvian world by other than me. But even if I were able, I would not elect to fully unleash the Watchers on humanity again. The humans do enough damage to themselves without the machinations of your kind.”

Aza snarled suddenly, the sound reverberating between the palm trees and across the beach, loud and inhuman. “Our kind? We are nearly brothers, you and I!”

With a lunge, Lucifer crossed the space between them, the fingers of one hand burying themselves in the little man’s cravat, twisting him off his feet and down into the sand in an instant. Eyes blazing with inner fire, Lucifer hissed, “Thee and thine are as far from the archangels as night from day, creation from destruction, being from nothingness. Do not dare suggest otherwise, little Watcher, or I may have cause to demonstrate how little I mark thee.”

Aza flailed beneath him, body curling in a defensive arc, but Lucifer could see his nearly silver eyes gleaming, flat and dispassionate, in the otherwise apologetic face.

“You criticize us for our sins against the humans, Adversary?” Samyaza’s voice was bitter but calm, returning to the previous conversation as if neither of the others had moved. He stood, hands clasped behind his back, observing the fate of his partner with only mild interest.

Disgusted, Lucifer released the smaller man with a shove that scattered sand in all directions. “Pride was ever my sin, Sam, but it is not yours. What you do with the capital vices is abhorrent, even to me. You can sate yourself in the lands I have left you. If you tire of that, well, Tartarus and Dis themselves are yours now. Go back where you belong, Grigori, if you cannot do otherwise.”

Sam started to speak again, but Lucifer cut him off. “And know that I remember well how lies and misdirection are your primary currency. Just because you are beneath my contempt does not mean you are beneath my notice.”

“Lucifer!“

He snapped his head around to see the Detective jogging toward them, her hand at her hip, clearly alerted by the violence and feeling defensively inclined on his behalf. He liked the strange curl of warmth in his chest that image inspired, but stifled it to growl at the two fallen angels. “I suggest you be elsewhere. I’m busy.”

He was a little surprised and a little relieved when they both bowed slightly and stalked away over the sand, vanishing behind a particularly dire art installation that reminded him of something growing in the Malebolge. When the Detective skidded to a halt beside him, her very compelling green-grey eyes searching his face, he let himself smile. “Yes, Detective? Are you finished? Ready for my help again?”

She just gaped at him, so he led the way back to the car, looking forward to shaking the sand out of his shoes.

 

Chapter Text

Not for the first time, Chloe was glad her mother hadn’t sold the aging treadmill. “The Vampire Queen has to exercise sometime!” Penelope Decker had decreed, but then usually bounced off to whatever new gym had opened that month to flirt mercilessly with the body builders. The treadmill gathered dust, tucked away in the guest room upstairs just past the double bed and beneath the low slanted ceiling of exposed wood. It looked out of the room’s only window over the neighborhood and toward the far mountains, and at six in the morning, it was awash with orange smog-reflected sunlight.

As the detective pounded along in a steady mile-consuming run, sweat coursed down her face, dripping off her chin and elbows. Seventies music blared from her cell phone on dresser, loud and tinny, spurring her efforts with a glam rock beat. With the house to herself, Chloe didn’t need to be concerned that footfalls on the ceiling or funky, kinetic music would wake Trixie or disrupt morning off-to-school rituals. She usually got her daily workout at the LAPD gym, half-cardio, half-strength training, quick and efficient, but when she really wanted to think she preferred the silent house, the suburban view, and the game whirring and squeaking of the old treadmill.

Her first fifteen minutes had been mindless, sleepy slogging, but as the exercise woke her brain, she found herself mulling over yesterday’s events at the skatepark. She had certainly recognized the two men in somewhat flamboyant costume who approached Lucifer, had watched them out of her peripheral vision even while she questioned as many teenagers as she could. Just as they had at Lux, the men moved as a coordinated team, and Lucifer reacted similarly—first with overt unconcern, then restrained hostility, and finally, abrupt violence. At which point Chloe had thrown a handful of contact cards at the kids and raced to reach her partner before . . .what?

What exactly had she expected? That they would attack him there on the public beach? Or that Lucifer would attack them? Replaying the scene in her mind, she had to admit that she genuinely wasn’t sure. As at the nightclub, her police-honed instincts shouted that danger was imminent, but she couldn’t swear from whom or in what form. Lucifer had thrown the guy off his feet in a move worthy of an aikido master and released him, fury short-lived. And the pair had vanished before she got to them without offering either defense or offense.

Even more disquieting, Lucifer had stubbornly deflected her every effort to understand what had just gone down. She peppered him with questions on the drive back into the city, which he blithely didn’t hear or misunderstood or simply refused to answer. How did they know him? What were they after? How had they located him at Venice Beach, a place completely outside of his usual haunts, as far as she knew? Why did they display such a bizarre mixture of deference and aggression? Were they dangerous?

Was he?

She hadn’t asked that one directly, of course, but she felt him bristle at the insinuation, even as he took the conversation in yet another irrelevant direction. He had dumped her on the sidewalk in front of the police station, speeding the little car back into traffic with barely a farewell. Afterward, she’d spent a restless evening at her dining room table, perusing case files again and trying not to worry that her strange partner and sometime friend was actually some sort of expatriate London mobster. 

Chloe kicked the treadmill speed up a few notches, pushing harder. Her sneakers struck the belt in an even rhythm, arms pumping, breathing deeply.

It wouldn’t be the first time she’d thought about the possibility that Lucifer was a criminal of some sort. So much of his entire persona fit the template: his arrogance and air of assumed control, his unaccountable physical strength and bursts of anger, his refusal to share a single aspect from his past with her. Even his employees at Lux raised eyebrows. Well, one of them certainly did.  Chloe had never reported the actual events at the youth center garage when Mazikeen, weaponless, wreaked havoc on a room full of armed Latin Kings gang members. Broken bones and displaced joints could be explained by special ops training, but her presence in that location at precisely the right time was uncanny. How often had the woman followed them on a case, unnoticed?

By her own admission, Mazikeen had been with Lucifer since his pre-L.A. days. They shared a long history, complete with a strange coded language, a system of comprehensive and consistent religious metaphor that marked locations, times, and events while masking them to the uninitiated. “I followed him through the gates of Hell,” Mazikeen had told her at their first meeting. What had once seemed overblown hyperbole now took on more sinister overtones.

Who needed a special ops-ninja-bodyguard on retainer? A drug lord? A cartel boss? A semi-retired mafia godfather? Could she actually imagine Lucifer in any of these roles?

Yes. Horribly, she could.

Chloe ran faster, ducking her chin and focusing on balance, speed, the inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale pattern of her breathing. The treadmill belt whined beneath her.

And now there were two strangers, practically bowing and scraping, begging Lucifer’s favor while courting his wrath like something out of The Sopranos . All of it was suspicious—their persistence, their air of latent threat, their use of a similar coded language. All of it pointed to something more seedy than just Lucifer the playboy nightclub owner.  Whatever it was that Lucifer had run away from five years ago, it seemed like it might be coming back to bite him in the ass.

Either way, there was no doubt that he was keeping secrets from her again—offering telling silence instead of lies. She understood playing things close to the vest, and lord knows she wasn’t sharing every detail of her life with him, but some secrets grew more dangerous when hidden and tended to erupt like a bomb when least expected.

Slowing the treadmill at the first whiff of smoke from the old motor, Chloe walked until her muscles felt comfortably stretched and cooled. She stripped off her sweat-soaked workout clothes, flung them in the hamper, dropped her cell phone on the back of the toilet playing overloud, energetic Bowie, and stepped into the shower. As the steaming water sluiced over her face and hair, she closed her eyes and concentrated on the music, trying to stop thinking about unanswered questions and vague worries and focus on the day ahead.

Automatically, she found herself swaying to “Rebel, Rebel,” and, with no one to impress, began to dance a little under the water, as she had danced two nights ago at Lux. Whatever Lucifer was outside of their odd relationship, she couldn’t deny that their dancing and bantering had been one of the most pleasant things she’d done in a long time. It took her back beyond some of the years of responsibility, perhaps, a reminder that she was more than the job, the mom, the failed wife, the scapegoat of the department—those core identities that increasingly drove her. With Lucifer on the dance floor, she had also been sexy, strong, witty, respected. It had felt good. He had made her feel  . . .

She stopped that train of thought right there, pried off the wheels, and left it smoking on the tracks. Not going there.

She turned off the tap and toweled her face and hair vigorously. As soon as she stepped out onto the cool tile floor, the distinct smells of bacon and coffee hit her, rich, savory, and completely out of place in her empty—and well-bolted—house.

“Oh, no,” she groaned. “Not again.”

Chloe grabbed her terrycloth robe from behind the door, belted it tightly around her waist and slipped her firearm into her pocket—just in case. Cell phone still merrily singing behind her, she stomped down the stairs, glare already in place.

“I swear, it’s like you enjoy being shot,” she said, rounding the kitchen cabinets to see Lucifer prodding bacon out of the frying pan and onto plates already laden with scrambled eggs, toast, and fresh orange quarters. When he held up a staying finger while he finished, she continued dramatically. “No, your Honor. I really didn't recognize him. It was 6:30 in the morning, and I was fuzzy-headed from my workout and lack of food. Sure, I reloaded twice, but that was just reflex."

Glancing up, he gave her a dazzling smile. “Why, Detective! You'd go three rounds for me? I certainly admire the stamina, but perhaps we should eat first? You'll need your strength."

She would swear before that self-same imaginary judge that she didn’t sputter and gape at him. While she was confident she could make an excellent case that shooting an unexpected intruder in her home was justified, the thought of the ream of paperwork that entailed was more than she could stomach. But only just.

He had draped his jacket over one of the dining room chairs and rolled his sleeves neatly up to his elbows, looking almost absurdly domestic even in his sleek shirt and trousers. “I don’t shy away from a little pain, mind,” he continued, returning the pan to the stove and picking up both plates. “If that’s your thing. Is it your thing?” She watched his eyes flicker over her face, then down, lingering appreciatively on her bare legs.

She scowled. “Lucifer—”

“But, no,” he continued, strolling past her to add the plates to the breakfast nook alongside complexly folded napkins, pre-set cutlery, and large mugs of fresh coffee. “I’m rather done with lead projectiles for now, I hope. Just popped in to see how our case was coming along. Can’t help that you seem to always be in the shower at this hour, can I? Well, come on, Detective. I did the best I could with your rather pedestrian selection of ingredients.”

She stood debating for a moment, common sense telling her to throw him and the entire breakfast out onto the porch.  But she had worked up an appetite on the treadmill, the bacon did smell heavenly, and the coffee—oh, the coffee. Shaking her head at herself as much as him, Chloe sat and reached for her cup. “How do you do it, anyway?”

“What?” he asked, tucking into his own food with evident pleasure.

“Break into my otherwise securely locked house,” she answered around a mouthful of lavishly buttered toast. Why was breakfast always loads better when someone else cooked?

He shrugged, disinterested. “Child’s play, I told you.”  His head suddenly shot up, alert as if sensing danger, peering beyond her into the house. “No spawn today? Already off to school?”

Chloe snorted a laugh, trying not to spray crumbs (what was it with him and kids?) and wondering, not for the first time, at how quickly her irritation with him always seemed to cool. “Vacation, actually. She’s in San Diego for a few more days with Dan’s family.”

“Good.” Lucifer relaxed again, sipping coffee. “Must be a welcome break.”

“Not so much. The house feels very empty,” Chloe admitted. She abandoned her fork to pick up bacon with her fingers. Her house. Her rules.  “Or it did before someone broke in.”

“Happy to be of service.”

She gestured at him with the bacon, “Then tell me how do you do it. So I’ll know if I need to be worried about other people doing the same thing.”

“Idle hands, you know. And uniquely talented fingers.” He crooked the fingers of one hand in a far too suggestive way and smiled toothily.

Chloe huffed in mock-outrage, but would not be drawn off topic. “So, you know some lock-picking. If you wrecked my deadbolt mechanism, you’re replacing it.”

“Now, now,” he crooned, looking pleased. “You’ll find I’ve done nothing to your locks. All is tight and secure as ever. Just not against the Devil Himself.”

“You do know that breaking and entering is a criminal offense? Stalking, too?”

“Nothing’s broken, Detective. And is it stalking if you enjoy a hot breakfast with the handsome would-be-stalker before you report the crime? You tell me.”

“I’m seriously going to change the locks to something more state-of-the-art,” she grumbled, adding lock-picking to her growing list of harmless if annoying Lucifer tricks.

“Oh, I love a challenge. Bring it, Detective.”

“Mmmm.Very well.” She popped an orange slice into her mouth, enjoyed the sweet burst of citrus, and stifled the urge to smirk. “I dare you to tell me about those men in rather flamboyant costumes who seem to be following you.”

He paused, fork poised over his eggs. “This is the most annoying thing about working with an officer of the law, you know,” he complained. “They simply cannot stop themselves from asking useless questions about things which really don’t involve them.”

She nodded, continuing to eat as if only moderately interested. “True. And since I can’t help it, you won’t mind me asking again. I’m usually pretty good at recognizing when someone I actually care about—the very tiniest bit—is in some kind of trouble.” She held his gaze. “If the cop can’t help, Lucifer, perhaps the friend can.”

He shifted on the bench, looking suddenly awkward, and put his fork down. “That’s a brave sentiment and a very pretty thought, Detective. But I’m afraid you’re wrong. There’s no trouble here.”  A faint twitch of a smile. “Well, not the kind you’re thinking of.”

Taking a chance, she reached across the table and pressed her fingers lightly against his. “Will you tell me this, at least? Were they threatening you?”

He sighed, his eyes drawn to their hands. “Not as such.”

Neither of them moved. “Lucifer, please,” she said quietly. “What does that mean?”

He seemed to consider, pursing his lips slightly, gaze flicking between her face and her fingertips resting across his.  “It means, Detective, that you don’t need to worry. They won’t harm me, whatever their intentions.”

She sat back. “Why can’t they hurt you, Lucifer? Is it because you think you’re immortal? We did disprove that recently, if you remember.”

He scooped his half-finished plate off the table, sliding to his feet abruptly and dumping the remnants of his breakfast in the trash.

“Lucifer.” She turned to watch him.

“No, Detective,” he said, not looking at her, suddenly busy cleaning the kitchen. “Not because of my new-found mortality. They won’t harm me simply because they're not significant enough.”

“Significant how, exactly?”

“In the grand scheme of existence. Significance with a capital ‘S.’ That’s all you need to know as a—” he actually seemed to catch his breath a split-second “—as my friend.”

“The red-haired guy—Sam, was it? He’s not a small dude, Lucifer. He holds himself like a fighter. I can’t help but be a little concerned.”

He tossed the frying pan into the sink with a clatter. “Enough, Detective.” His tone was sharp, brittle. “I came all the way over here to talk about our case, not some random, unimportant personal matter you’ve happened to observe.” It was a crude redirect at best, not nearly up to his usual standard, and Chloe fell silent for a moment, watching his back.

“One more question, then we can talk about the case.”

“You are nothing if not persistent.”

“I’m good at my job, yes. If they aren’t a direct threat to you for whatever reason, are you--” She paused, considering her words. “Are you a threat to them?”

He turned and leaned over the island to look at her, his hands gripping the edges of the stove until their knuckles whitened. Morning sunlight angled through the nearby window and cast peculiar shadows on his face. “If pushed, yes.” His voice was tight, teeth almost clenched. “Why, Detective? Afraid you’ll have to take me in? Afraid I won’t go easily?”

She ignored the bitter invective in his tone. “No. Afraid that they’re pushing you, maybe. Setting you up for a fall.”

“A fall, is it? How ironic.”

“They found you all the way out in Venice, Lucifer.”

He cut her off. “You said ‘one more,’ Detective. We’re done with this now.”

She rose to hand him her empty plate. “For now,” she agreed. Patting his arm to signal surrender and giving him a brief smile, Chloe went to wipe the table.

Silently, Lucifer put dishes in the dishwasher, leftovers in the fridge, and straightened his sleeves, pulling cuff links out of a pocket and fitting them back in place. In a few minutes, the kitchen was spotless and Lucifer as neatly together as always.  He stood looking unusually at a loss without any other immediate task and, taking pity on him, Chloe pointed toward the den. “All of the older case files for Long Beach are on the coffee table. Why don’t you go see what you make of them while I get dressed? Look at Smythe, particularly. That’s our first stop today.”

She was four stairs up before he gathered himself enough to respond, the quip following her as she climbed. “Are you sure you don’t need a helping hand upstairs, Detective? Uniquely talented fingers, remember? You know what they say about idle hands and the Devil’s playthings?”

"No, Your Honor,” she said loudly, glad to hear him recover his good-humor, “I don’t know how the toaster fell off the counter onto his head. That part was simple coincidence!”

 


 

Nearly an hour later, they walked along the mixed commercial and residential streets of Long Beach, passing salons and bars and cafes wedged onto the palm-lined main drag. Lucifer peered into storefront windows, his attention caught by people and items briefly, then returned to Chloe as she brought him up to speed on the Peter Gross case. 

“Did you tell her Lux was hiring? The blonde, I mean?” he asked, sauntering along beside her, craning his neck and seeming to bask the sun and the sea air like a slightly offensive cat.

“Of course not!”

“Well, maybe later. Did she add anything to the lad’s parents’ rather lackluster portrait of his wasted potential?”

“Not much, I’m afraid. Peter had been spending most mornings at the skatepark, pre-sunrise, practicing some mysterious new trick at a time when his friends and competitors wouldn’t be there to watch. The girlfriend met him there around six.”

“More motivated than I’d expect,” Lucifer mused. “Unless ‘trick’ is being used euphemistically? If so, maybe we should go interrogate her again, after all?”

Chloe pushed on, rubbing her temples before a headache could take hold. “Yesterday, she said she left him there just after dawn to get them both some breakfast. When she returned, he’d already gone. She assumed the beat cops had chased him off toward school and figured she’d catch up with him later. She spent the remainder of the morning at her part-time job serving McMuffins, and that’s all she knew until he missed their gig that afternoon. None of his friends had much to add. A few of them looked miffed that he’d been practicing without them, maybe.”

“Murder by jealous skateboard rival? Was young Mr. Gross actually the dark horse of the wannabe X-games?”

“Maybe,” she said with a shrug. “But I doubt it.”

“Yes, me, too. More likely, I was right about him just being an uninteresting parasite in all of his social groupings.”

The sidewalk was sparsely populated at this hour of the morning. Many of the shops and cafes were still closed for another hour or two, and several of L.A.’s many homeless citizens were still tucked beneath cardboard boxes and dingy blankets on the stoops. Some of them looked up with hopeful interest at Lucifer, but Chloe’s badge seemed to discourage them. As usual, it made her feel conflicted—her compassion warring with the need to move without being accosted for hand-outs.

One man in a grey, sweat-stained shirt and ragged jeans pushed himself upright as they approached. He peered up at them through long, curly brown hair, heavy with grime, and held out an open, empty battered leather wallet on an unusually long chain, gesticulating but saying nothing. Chloe checked her steps, reaching into her pocket to find a few bills, but Lucifer stepped between them. With a soft, contemptuous noise, he roughly blocked the man’s reach and growled at her, “Keep walking, Detective.”

“Lucifer, what the hell?” she bridled, about to push him aside when he grasped her elbow and propelled her down the sidewalk, his grip so hard and unexpected that she was several feet away before she even began trying to turn back. “Hey!”

Behind them, Chloe saw the homeless man stumble to his feet and shuffle after them, wallet dragging across the ground behind him like a ball and chain.Taller than Lucifer and thin to the point of emaciation, he moved with a limping, loose-limbed gait, a Halloween scarecrow come to life. When Chloe looked again, he had fallen behind and finally stopped, standing in the gutter and staring intently after them. She imagined frustration and loss on his gaunt face beneath its thicket of unkempt hair.

Rounding on her partner, she snapped, “What do you think you’re doing? Maybe you can afford classic cars and Prada suits, but not everyone in this city is so damned lucky.”

Lucifer continued to walk ahead, his long strides forcing her to pick up her pace even to yell at him.

She did, jogging a few steps but somehow failing to break in front of him. “I knew you were arrogant, but I didn’t think you were a complete asshole,” she continued, shocked at his dismissal. “And if I want to help someone out, it’s my prerogative. Not yours.”

“Yes, of course.” Lucifer nodded up at the street sign, moving purposefully into the narrower side street without missing a beat. “The shop you’re looking for is down here, didn’t you say?”

Seizing his arm, Chloe planted her feet and dropped her center of gravity, stopping him mid-stride.

He turned, looking impatient. “Right. Got it. You get to decide where to throw your paltry salary away. Now, can we get on with this?”

She stared at him, fuming. “No. I can put up with a lot from you—hell, I do put up with a lot from you. But you don’t get to manhandle me, ever. Understand? In fact, maybe you don’t need to work with me at all if you’re going to be that hostile to some poor homeless guy!”

The muscles in his jaw corded as he ground his teeth. “Detective, he’s not what he seems.”

“Oh? What is he, then? Investment banker? Celebrity chef?”

“Perhaps. But, whatever he is, it is by choice and for some unpleasant end.”

Chloe shook her head. “Really? I thought you had more sense than to believe that. There are lots of legitimate reasons for poverty, especially in this city. You can’t just sit in your ivory penthouse and listen to what network television tells you about people. I guess you don’t meet too many of the lower classes in your usual circles, do you?”

“In spite of what it may look like,” he said with surprising bitterness, “I’m likely the most open-minded and least prejudiced person you know. Believe me, the complexities and inequities of the human condition are not lost on me. But that man does not deserve your sympathy.”

“And how could you know that?”

“Because he’s—” he sighed, looking vaguely defeated. “Let us just say he’s an ex-employee. I know him.”

“Former Lux staff?”

“Not Lux.”  He rubbed his stubbled chin. “From before.”

“Before?” she echoed. “You mean before L.A.? Just like the other two yesterday, right? What did you do before, Lucifer?”

He was silent for almost a minute, and she waited, arms crossed over her chest. “I have told you, Detective. More than once. I can’t help that you don’t believe me.”

“So, he’s hellspawn? That’s a bit harsh, don’t you think?”

Lucifer rolled his eyes. “Not hellspawn, no. Hellspawn are usually much simpler and, in most cases, less dangerous. Don’t be deceived by the guise he’s adopted. None of us always look quite like what you see.”

“Yes, sometimes I’m very surprised by what I see from you,” she bit out and marched away, not caring if he followed. Clearly, this conversation wasn’t going anywhere, and she needed to check-in with some of these older missing persons cases before lunchtime.

Before the next cross street,  the detective saw the tell-tale garish electric blue awning described in the case file. It stretched over the sidewalk, an enormous painted cannabis leaf and blocky rainbow letters spelling out “UP IN SMOKE EMPORIUM” across its front. Scrawled across the windows in white paint were the words “pipes - medical weed - legal paraphernalia - exotica - antiques” and showcased below were a hodgepodge of objects, from leather-bound books and old pharmacy bottles to gem-colored hookah pipes, bongs, and hydroponic equipment. A neon “open” sign flickered fitfully above the door, reflecting red in the large display of glassware. Chloe peered in and noticed Lucifer come up beside her, shading his eyes with one hand to see more clearly against the glass.

“A head shop?” He sounded more cheerful, as if making an effort to recover from, if not apologize for, his bad behavior. “Why, Detective, you do take me to the nicest places.”

“You can’t tell me you’ve never been in a head shop before,” she grumped, pulling open the door with a musical chime and stepping into a wall of sickly sweet incense. Long and narrow, the shop overflowed with glass cases, wooden shelves, every surface scattered with mismatched wares. Racks of black grunge clothing and studded leather gear competed with the bright primary colors of Grateful Dead memorabilia, faded posters, and row after row of marijuana-related merchandise. Windchimes and witch balls and other bric-a-brac dangled and twirled from the star-painted ceiling. Chloe’s eyes started watering almost immediately in the thick atmosphere, and she had to clear her throat to call, “Anyone here?”

Lucifer pushed past her, looking around with interest. “Quite the mix of goods. Something for all occasions.” He hefted a walking stick with a silver serpent head and glittering red gem eyes, appraising it, then vanished behind a tall bookshelf in the middle of the floor. Three human skulls perched on top amid tangles of ribbon and tiny plastic dinosaurs. “Oh, hello,” she heard him comment delightedly. “I haven’t tried one of those before.”

“Not asking. I never ask a question when I really don't want to know the answer,” Chloe said over her shoulder as she approached the counter where a small bell sat beside an old-fashioned push-button cash register. The glass counter below brimmed with a collection of worn clay pipes of various sizes and lengths, all with small bowls, stained and pocked. A handwritten scrap of paper noted these were “antique pipes” and “for use with legal substances only.” Yeah. Right. She tapped the bell.

A rattle of bead curtains heralded the arrival of a rotund older woman with flyaway purple hair, gauzy multicolored shawls, and tight black spandex leggings. A large cut-glass heart bounced comfortably on a chain around her neck. She waddled through the shop, a brilliant smile of welcome on her well-lined face. Nearly a foot shorter than the detective, she peered up at her for a moment, then reached out to press her hands warmly. Her skin was dry and soft, her grip featherlight. “Why, hello, my dear,” she sang, crows’ feet crinkling in pleased surprise. Chloe noticed that although her eyes seemed a little watery, they were also a striking tawny color--clear, bright, shining with enthusiasm. “What can I do for you today?”

Chloe returned the infectious smile. “Are you Ms. Abigail Smythe?” she asked politely, releasing the woman’s hands. “My name is Detective Chloe Decker. I’m with the LAPD.”

“Oh!” The shop owner startled, then laughed wheezily as Lucifer emerged from behind the center shelf, a massive leather-backed volume tucked under one arm. “I didn’t see you there, young man.”

He took her proffered hand and bowed over it with his best five star smile. “Lucifer Morningstar.”

Chloe stopped herself from rolling her eyes unprofessionally. At least he was behaving himself now.

If his name surprised her, the little woman didn’t show it. “Get all kinds in here, dear,” she prattled comfortably, gesturing around at walls plastered with heavy metal flyers and tarot posters. “What can I do for such a pretty couple? You’ll be here with a prescription, perhaps? Got to see the actual documentation, you know.” She bustled around behind the counter, pushing boxes and stacks of paper aside with her feet. “Or is it something else you’re hoping to find?”

“Ms. Smythe?” Chloe repeated, thinking the shopkeeper might be just a bit deaf.

“Yes? Detective, did you say?”

“Detective Decker, ma’am, with the Missing Persons Unit. I’m here to follow-up on your brother. I’m afraid there’s no news to report on our end, but we were wondering if anything more had occurred to you since that first week. I hope you don’t mind us stopping in. I’m sure it’s been a hard few weeks. We are still hopeful.”

Owlish eyes blinked up at her. “What’s that? My brother?”

Chloe smiled sympathetically, noticing that the woman’s hands trembled a little as she began lighting candles and fresh trays of incense behind the register. “Yes. Is there anything that you haven’t told us already? Perhaps he’s been back in contact since we haven’t heard from you lately?”

Smythe shook her head, frizzy purple hair wafting like the rising smoke. “I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about, my dear.” She looked back and forth between Chloe and Lucifer blankly. “I don’t have a brother, much less one that’s missing.”

Nothing in the case notes had indicated that Smythe might suffer from memory loss or dementia of any kind, although Chloe realized that the prolonged use of cannabis had been known to have deleterious effects. When she got back to the station, she fully intended to have a sharp conversation with the MPU officer who had overlooked that pertinent detail during their initial investigation; of all things not to notice, even if it were an intermittent condition. Chloe felt a pang, looking across at the older woman. At least it explained why no one had called to check up on the case in over two weeks now. “Listen, ma’am,” she began again. “Is there anyone else here that you work with? Do you have other family in the area?”

“No, dear. It’s just me and the shop these days. Only open when I can be here.” She brightened suddenly, tugging at her shawls and nodding at the book in Lucifer’s hands. “Oh-ho! That's what you’re about, today, is it? Well, then,” she turned to Chloe with a very un-grandmotherly wink. “I don’t blame you one bit, boy like that, but you’ll need to come to the back room for that kind of thing. Get a lot of kids in here, you know.”

Lucifer’s face split into a disconcertingly wide grin. “That so? Detective, I suggest we inspect this back room, just in case there’s someone else to answer your boring questions.”

The shop door chimed again, and Chloe turned to see the homeless man from before shoulder inside and stop when he saw the little knot of people staring in his direction. He coughed, fingered his wallet chain nervously, then looked away as if perusing the window displays.

When Lucifer stiffened beside her, the detective quickly placed a light, restraining hand on his sleeve. His eyes flashed down at her, anger in the hard set of his jaw, but he didn’t move or speak. Watching this small byplay, Smythe also reached out to them, her pudgy fingers patting them both. “Oh, don’t worry yourselves about old Bat. He’s just part of the furniture. Come on in, Bat. There’ll be coffee and a pipe in a minute. Got us a little cake, too, this morning.”

Lucifer rolled his shoulders, glaring as the skinny man wandered in and veered off toward the far wall and its display of home growing equipment and how-to magazines. The top of his greasy hair could still be seen above even the tallest shelf, bobbing between the skulls and eclectic junk.

“Old Bat?” Chloe asked, leaving her hand on Lucifer just in case. He didn’t seem to mind, and after a moment, she felt him heave a breath and turn away from the front of the store.

“Bartholomew, I expect. But who wants to have to say that whole mouthful, eh? Goes by Bat. He’s harmless. Wants a bit of food and a stoop to sleep on; I let him have a tobacco pipe once in awhile. He blends right in with some of my regulars, you know, though he don’t say much himself. Now,” she shifted back to business, “you just come with me. Don’t be shy.” She pulled them both through a multi-layered bead curtain and into a tiny, cramped room filled with brightly lit displays.

Lucifer hummed, grinning like the canary that ate the cat. “Well, well. The nicest places, indeed, Detective.”

Chloe sighed, dropping her head into her hands. Of course it would have to be sex toys. Bright neon colors, variable shapes and sizes, and was that supposed to be a strap-on dragon dick?

 


 

Lucifer closed the shop door behind them before the detective finally burst with indignation. “Why the hell did she assume we wanted sex toys?” she hissed, with the most striking flush still painted over her cheeks and throat. He wondered idly if she knew that happened when she was flustered. Did it also happen when she was aroused in even more interesting ways? He’d love to find out.

“No need to be embarrassed, Detective,” he purred, watching the rosy color deepen as he leaned into her. “We’re both adults. And, as you make no secret that young Beatrice isn’t adopted, we both know you must have had sex at some point in your life. Although it wouldn’t surprise me if that ex of yours was exclusively vanilla in his skills.” He loved that face, the one where her fine eyebrows dipped over stormy eyes, her lips twisting down at just one corner. Marvelous. “And, of course, she expected to sell me this.” He held up his parcel, its square form swaddled in several plastic bags.

“That extraordinarily expensive book,” she said. “I’m totally going to regret asking—but what is it, then?”

He offered it to her and watched while she peeled back plastic to reveal the dusty, dark red cover with its gold-inlaid Sanskrit characters. Puzzled and suspicious, she opened the tome to its frontispiece, its scroll-like text also unreadable to her limited grasp of historic world languages. Thumbing through the excellently hand-stitched pages, she frowned. “What—? I don’t—”

“It’s not Vātsyāyana’s original, of course. Just a hand-copied recent edition, maybe four hundred years old at best. But it is quite beautiful, and it’s always amusing to see how even its most well-meaning and scholarly admirers bungle the translation.” He tilted his head. “You still don’t recognize it? I guess without the pictures your modern printings add, it’s not quite obvious. I don’t need the pictures myself, never really did, but some of them can be helpful for partners.”

That downturned corner of her mouth deepened. “It’s the Kamasutra , isn’t it? Fancy that. Ancient porn. Of course it is.” She shoved the book back into his hands and strode off up the side street toward where they had parked the police cruiser.

“Surely you’ve tried these, Detective. Don’t tell me you haven’t?” He followed, his longer legs catching up quickly. “You know, you really need to get over your hang-up about sleeping with me. The delights I can plan for you! Some of these positions have been popular as far back as the Babylonian conquest, and for good reason. And Vātsyāyana left a few of the more exciting ones out just to avoid shocking the clergy of his day over much, too. Completely worth the effort.” When she didn’t respond, he offered, “If you’re still going to be stubborn, how about I loan you a copy with pictures for a start?”

She lengthened her stride. “If you even try to mansplain the Kamasutra to me, you will need both hands, a flashlight, and a mirror to read it in its new home.”

“Oh, so you are familiar, Detective,” he chuckled, letting her go this time, enjoying the view from behind. “You know it’s not just a sex manual!” he called after her. “It’s actually a treatise on the nature of desire. A philosophical and practical master class, if you ask me. And I should know!”

A sudden acrid taste in the air, sweat and gasoline and scorched sulfur, stopped him cold. He stood still, listening, letting the Detective hasten away without him. After a moment, he growled a wordless threat into the silence, low and animal.

“We fell for you, my lord.” The answering voice was smoke edged in broken glass, rasping and soft and directionless, floating to him as if from a great distance. “We fell like embers, forever burning, forever bound. For you.”

Long, spidery fingers seized Lucifer's arm in an iron grip. Incensed by the effrontery, Lucifer snarled, twisting away. But the hands clutched at him again, clawed up his body, dug beneath his jacket, scrabbled at his collar. A too-heavy bony form clung to him, groping, inhumanly strong. “For you! For you!” the homeless scarecrow of a man wailed, broken teeth gnashing in Lucifer’s face.

“Batraal,” the Devil raged, trying to seize the fallen angel in his own vice-like hands and failing as preternatural limbs slid and scrambled around him. “You dare? You should have learned your lesson the first time you came at me, Watcher.”

“You owe us!” Batraal gasped, breath rattling in his pseudo-lungs, spittle flying. He slipped out of Lucifer’s fingers like oil only to flow behind him. “For you, we’ve lived epochs of suffering and shame. Fallen, like you. Fallen, for you.”

Lucifer spun, teeth bared and eyes flaming red, the scent of brimstone in the air. “You fell for yourselves,” he snapped, attacking with words when the thin body eluded him once again. “For your own lusts, consorting with demons and with humans against their will, your greed and gluttony slaked in blood and marrow. If you claimed free will as your banner, it was not out of allegiance to me!”

“It was for you, Adversary. We followed your path.” The cracked, whispery voice echoed in the empty street. “And so you owe us. You will always owe us.”

“I owe you nothing,” Lucifer grated. “But show yourself, Bat, and I can still give you the quick and ignominious death you have ever deserved.”

“Hell lacks you, lord. Take up your mantle, and follow us home.” Shadows flickered against the shop walls on either side of the street. “Ignore us at your peril.”

“Lies and empty threats. You haven’t the will.” Lucifer whipped around at a rush of air behind him, freezing when he saw Detective Decker, gun raised in both hands. She had positioned herself back to back with him, covering the other end of the road, hard-eyed and fierce. Something molten and ancient inside him answered her ferocity with exultation.

“What the hell, Lucifer?” she whispered.

He blinked the fire out of his eyes, pulled himself back from the brink.  “Yes, exactly,” he muttered, scanning around him, all too aware that the human woman bravely—if uselessly—defending him was more vulnerable than she could realize right now. “You shouldn’t be here.”

“Shut up. Is he gone? Where’d he go? He was right here!”

With a fiendish scream, Batraal drove into Lucifer with force enough to stagger him and fling the detective aside like a rag doll. Icy links of chain wrapped around the Devil’s throat, a choking pressure that turned into a searing pain, dragging him backward, pulling him inexorably down. Shocked at the strength of the lone Fallen, Lucifer struck out and caught only air. Steel fingers gripped his hair, fetid breath burned at his ear, and the flash of a curved dagger cut viciously across his vision.

And Lucifer Morningstar began to laugh, silent and agonized, as Mazikeen of the Lilim carved one of the clutching hands off in a spray of black ichor. Tar-like blood and wriggling flesh tumbled through the air, igniting, burning away into smoke before they touched the earth.

Strangling chain loosed, Lucifer lurched forward to crouch in the street. He rubbed his battered throat and watched with pride as Maze leapt onto his assailant’s shoulders, riding him down, boots gouging into sternum and spine. The tip of a hell-forged blade hooked deep into his fragile-looking throat, and he gurgled as she hauled upward, holding him trapped beneath her weight, balanced impossibly.

When the Watcher twitched, she licked her parted lips. “Please try it,” she begged, breathless, aroused. She slid her slender body down the skeletal form of her prey, drinking in his helplessness and pain. “He may not miss home, but I do. Give me some sport, little angel.”

Batraal shivered, unresisting, but his eyes roved wildly over the scene, over Lucifer on the ground, Mazikeen’s feral stare, his own thick black blood burning in the air as it poured from his severed wrist. “Lord,” he mouthed, silently, fixing his gaze on Lucifer at last. “I had to. Forgive me.”

Lucifer straightened, flicking road dirt from his jacket. “Not my job,” he said flatly.

With an obscene moan, Mazikeen completed her stroke, ramming blade and fingers fully through the fallen angel’s throat. The body collapsed beneath her, flashing into white fire before coalescing into smoke to be whisked away in the ocean breeze. Maze watched it for a moment, satisfied, then shoved the dagger carelessly back into its hidden sheath at the small of her back.

She turned to Lucifer, the curve of her body sultry and sated with the kill. The socket of one eye had darkened with a skull-like shadow and the outline of grinning teeth gleamed along her jaw just beneath her human skin. Reaching him in two smooth strides, she ran her hands up his chest, pushing inside his jacket, popping buttons off his shirt to reach warm skin, arching up against him to kiss his bruised throat. He felt her breath, the familiar force of her teeth, the wet slide of her tongue along the ache left by the chain. When she pulled back to stare steadily up at him, his blood was smeared across her lower lip. Though her gaze was alluring, her words were sharp. “He’ll be back. You know I can’t kill him. I don’t like this, Lucifer.”

He wiped the blood away with his thumb. “Don’t you? Could have fooled me.”

She pushed off of him, eyes narrowing. “What is up with you?” she demanded. “Since when can a single Grigori harm the Devil?”

Lucifer shrugged at the rather provincial line of questions and turned away to attend his detective. Chloe had fallen on her side, her hair splayed out in disarray and the shoulder of her light coat torn at a seam, but otherwise seemed unharmed. He touched her gently, murmuring her name, trying to call her back from wherever human consciousness goes when shoved.

Mazikeen stood over them, head cocked, raptorish.  She sneered down at the prone policewoman. "To serve and protect, was it? I forget.”

“I don’t need her protection, Maze,” Lucifer responded, settling the detective more comfortably on her back and tapping her cheek with light fingers.

He could feel the demon’s gaze on his garroted neck. “So I see,” she said pointedly.

“Not when I have you to bring the sarcasm and sacrificial daggers, Mazie.” He gave her a glimmer of a smile to show that he really was genuinely grateful for her assistance, if not her commentary.

The demon shrugged. “Yes. You do. But that makes three of them now, out of place and in your way. As embattled as they may be back home, you can bet they’ll all know before long that one of them, alone, made the Devil bleed.”

“And they will also know I am still well-attended.” Lucifer shrugged, unconcerned. “What can they do but offer us some sport we haven’t had in years? I thought you longed for a taste of home? A change of pace? ”

“I do. But it’s the change in you that worries me. It needs to worry you more, too, especially if Hell’s leaking challengers.” She bent to run rough, stinging fingers over his abraded throat. When he pulled away with a warning glare, she smirked and strode off up the street, leather-clad hips swaying. From one moment to the next, her lean, sinuous form was there and and then not, leaving behind only the rhythmic echo of stiletto heels.

Lucifer growled to himself about uppity demon torturers, asinine fallen angels, and reckless human detectives.  He hefted the Detective's limp form into his arms, tucked his book and her firearm securely into her coat, and carried her back to the parking deck followed by the eyes of surprised morning shoppers. Chloe groaned when he propped her in the passenger seat and buckled the seat belt to hold her up. By the time he’d circled the car and slid in himself, her eyes were blinking open and her athletic body tensing for battle.

“Easy, Detective,” he said, fishing her keys out of her jacket pocket with deft fingers.

“Lucifer?” She rolled her head forward, long hair falling over her face in a messy wave.  She gingerly felt her shoulder and elbow. “Ow. My God, what happened? I feel like I fell off a ladder.”

“It would be an inordinately high ladder if He were involved. I doubt you’d feel much of anything in that case,” he answered cheerfully. “Except immense boredom while waiting on Uriel to get on with the orientation.”

“What?”  She fingered the torn seam.

Lucifer pointed the painfully slow police sedan toward the highway and dropped his foot on the accelerator with disappointing results. At least it wasn’t rush hour. “Well, to review,  I do believe we were discussing the merits of avoiding certain unsavory characters that I—” He paused, a mock-frown furrowing his brow. “I do believe I feel an ‘I told you so’ coming on. You may need to take the wheel.” Out of the corner of his eye, he saw her sit up straighter, remembering, turning to him with sharp green eyes that took in his own less-than-coiffed state.“Yes, Detective?” he prompted, knowing he couldn’t stop her.

“He attacked you. He was like—like some kind of acrobat or martial artist. You were saying something about—about demons? And free will and allegiance. He said you owed him. Or them. Or someone. You were disagreeing, I think.”

“A mostly fair assessment of events.”

“And you threatened to kill him.” She covered her eyes with her hand as if trying to ward off a migraine. “You didn’t kill him, did you?”

He harrumphed. “No, Detective. I didn’t.”

“Is that blood on your collar? Are you bleeding?”

“Not anymore.”

She flung her head back against the seat, wincing as she did so. “What the hell Is going on? Who are these people? What do they want from you?”

He stared out at the road. “They appear to be seeking favors I will not grant,” he said after a moment of consideration.

"You have limits on the favors you’ll do for people?" Her follow-up question was, in his mind, not perhaps the most valuable or direct one she could have asked. Perhaps she had hit the ground a bit harder than he thought.

"Believe it or not, Detective, even I know there are some boundaries better not to be crossed,” he replied seriously. "And that was hardly the way for them to ingratiate themselves or inspire my generosity!"

And that, he decided, was his final word on a subject he wasn't entirely sure he understood himself. “How do you feel about a quick stop at yours and mine for a change of clothes? And can we change vehicles while we’re at it? Honestly, this drives with all the finesse of a theme park bumper car and looks about as attractive.”

Chapter Text

The detective drummed her fingers impatiently against the front counter. “You must have some record of her,” she said for the third time, now through gritted teeth. “You do realize how ridiculous this is, right?”

Lucifer watched her stare down the fidgety orderly, a youth in an ill-fitting smock who looked like he thought she might bite him, and not in the fun way. The detective’s waning patience was about the only thing even remotely interesting about their visit to the beachfront retirement home where Mrs. Genevieve Kazimierz had wandered away over three weeks ago. From the pale cinder block walls and soapy smell of disinfectant to the childish construction paper bulletin boards and insipid game show patter on every television, the place could hardly inspire even the most decrepit of humans to want to stay in this world, he thought.

While the detective asked questions of the staff, Lucifer had found an unoccupied wheelchair and rollicked around in the hallways for a while, but that novelty wore off quickly. Even Mrs. Kazimierz herself had apparently been forgettable to the on-site staff; her case file photo--a tiny wrinkled woman in a floral house dress—didn’t seem familiar to most of them. Then again, Lucifer wasn’t sure there was a great deal going on with the attendants, all of whom seemed more bored than he was.

Chloe pushed past one gum-popping stand-about and squatted beside the orderly, pointing at his computer screen and trying not to shout. Lucifer wondered what sort of mischief the wide-eyed lad could have been up to in a place like this to find a badge so threatening. Pilfering the little blue pills? Slipping a bit of weed into the weekend brownie allotment? Misdirecting the horde of clergy who wanted to pester the elderly one more time before they kicked off this mortal coil?

Come to think of it, that might be worth his time, too, if the detective was going to take all day. The Devil wasn’t particularly interested in souls, but baiting his Father’s mindless devotees might offer a bit of sport.  Lucifer looked around for the telltale white collars or for hymnals tucked under arms.

Another wheelchair squeaked to a halt beside Lucifer’s with an elderly dark-skinned man hunched in its seat, his broad hands resting comfortably on the wheels. “What you in for, man?” he rumbled by way of greeting, voice low and still resonant even if brittle with age.

“An afternoon of unmitigated boredom, it seems.” Lucifer glanced at the man. Once powerfully built, his aging body still showed signs of strength in the corded muscle of his arms; humor gleamed behind clouded dark eyes. The metal slats of his unmotorized chair were plastered with Marine corps and Vietnam veteran bumper stickers, new bright vinyl layered over many others peeled and faded with time.

“That it is,” the elderly man said. “Seems like you already got the gist of things here most days.” He rocked his chair from side to side, fingers on the brake, wheels walking precisely to settle next to the wall with an easy view of the front desk.

Lucifer watched curiously. During his years topside, he’d interacted with very few humans of truly advanced age. Despite the man’s hearty demeanor, his soul was very close to the surface, only tenuously grounded in this world and straining like a hot air balloon might drag at its tethers. Lucifer searched it automatically, noting its future destination—the upper regions of Hell. A short-timer who’d work his way to the Silver City soon enough (pity), but with enough blotches to have enjoyed his life. Lucifer approved.

“Don’t usually see young’uns like you here. Not ‘less they’re crazy.” Those hazy eyes rolled over the Devil’s face, thoughtful. “You don’t look crazy, like. But sometimes they fool you.”

“Young, no. But I’m beginning to think I might be crazed to let her drag me around on these useless errands.” He nodded toward Detective Decker who was corralling more staff around the computer. “Murders tend to be so much more lively, believe it or not.”

“That your old lady? Now I’m probably not much competition these days, so you won’t mind if I say— damn , that’s a fine bit o’ woman!” His deep voice carried lusty admiration.

Looking sideways at him, Lucifer hummed agreement.  That little bit of darkness on the man’s soul? Well-fulfilled desire. Kindred spirit, then.

The old man caught his look and laughed, breathlessly. “I’m old, son. I ain’t dead. She looks mighty feisty. All fire and spit. Make you work for it, you know?”

Lucifer raised his eyebrows at the insight. “In so many unexpected ways.”

“Enjoy it while you can. Don’t get many like that at my age; not in here. Girls just aren’t what they used to be, eh? Guess us guys aren’t either, at that,” the old veteran said, rueful. “Now little Genevieve could give the menfolk a run for their money, but she musta gone on her way finally. Ain’t seen her in weeks.”

“Genevieve Kazimierz?” Lucifer wheeled around to face him. Well, well.

“Yeah, that’s her.” The man’s eyes crinkled at the corners and his wide mouth pulled back in a fond smile. “Little thing. White, too. Never ceased to amaze me how, at this age, it don’t seem to matter anymore; folks is just folks, if you know what I mean? We got on really well, spent a lot of time down in front of the tv or out on the deck watching the beach and the young people cavorting about in their skimpy get-ups.” He leaned toward Lucifer conspiratorially. “Never too old to look, eh? ‘Course I ‘spect Genny got on well with lots of us guys, but that’s neither here nor there to me. Good company, Genny. Might as well enjoy it.” He coughed, and the rattle deep in his lungs set his soul to stretching again, tugging against gravity.

“Alright, let's go. If you’re done playing around, that is?” Chloe nodded a polite greeting to the old man before turning exasperated eyes on Lucifer in the wheelchair. “We’re getting nowhere here.”

The old man guffawed softly, still coughing. “Fire and spit, like I said,” he muttered, thumping Lucifer on the arm as the Devil stood. “God help you with that one, man.”

“Not really His gig, I assure you. Although I suppose He might have sent her to teach me patience," he replied, smiling beatifically at the detective’s suspicious look.

Chloe gave Lucifer a small push toward the sliding glass doors. “Made a friend, did you? Maybe you can play wheelchair races when we come back. None of the weekend staff have any idea about a missing resident and even her digital records are inaccessible right now; program malfunction, they say, but I’d lay good money that careless human error is the real cause. These places,” she said, disparaging. “Grow old and get forgotten.”

“Surprising, too, given how popular Genny seemed to be with her comrades in wheeled arms,” Lucifer said. “Seems to me like she’d have raised a few eyebrows if she went off on her own, from all her gentlemen callers if from nobody else.”

Chloe stopped. “Gentleman callers?”

“The old veteran back there assures me she’s the most popular woman in the dentures and walker set. Rarely unaccompanied. Definitely didn’t sound like someone looking to head off on her own without a word.”

“Huh.” Chloe unlocked the cruiser and got in.

“See? A little playing around might not be quite so useless after all, Detective.” Lucifer smirked, waiting to be told to buckle his seatbelt just to see her roll her eyes again. “If you’d care to try it, I’d be happy to assist.”

“I don’t suppose your friend had any contact with her recently?”

“Nope. But given that our grandmother with the flowery mumu and the saintly name was apparently a bit of a player, maybe she rode off into the sunset with a slightly more mobile lover?”

“That doesn't sound very likely—though it's always refreshing to hear how your libido will insinuate itself next into conversation. Will you put on your damn seatbelt if you don’t want to ride in the back?”

 


 

Over the next few hours, they checked in with other missing persons cases that had gone cold and silent—neither updated by the LAPD nor by additional contact from family, friends, or coworkers. It was tedious work, and Chloe was a little surprised her consultant partner stuck with it, even though he groused about the boredom every chance that arose.

They visited a body painting studio where none of the artists or admins currently on-site proved to be familiar with their missing colleague. They did, however, try to recruit Lucifer as a canvas. (“Bit busy now, love, but here’s my card,” and, Chloe noted with disgust, his most hedonistic, tongue-sliding-along-teeth grin.)

The following stop turned out to be a house closed up tight while the family was away on vacation, or so said the mail carrier next door. So, they tried the victim’s workplace, a video game testing center in the basement of Mayhem Games, where only one tester out of the twenty working the weekend shift had even a dim recollection of the sandy blonde thirty-something who’d been reporting bugs for over five years now. (“No wonder he’s unmemorable if this is what he does all day,” Lucifer remarked. “For a social game, these people look like they’re in sensory deprivation wards. Grandma Kazimierz had a more active and exciting social life.”)

And now, they waited in the back room of a cheap comedy club, sandwiched in between crates of busted lighting equipment, an old soundboard, and a forest of mops, buckets and miscellaneous garbage. The pre-show of unidentifiable rap music pounded through the concrete walls, probably the work of their next-in-line contact, “DJ Double D,” who was supposed to finish a set at 6pm.

Lucifer pulled out his silver cigarette case and lit up, inhaling gratefully before offering the cigarette to her. When Chloe waved it away, he said, “Yes, yes. I know you don’t usually smoke, Detective. The air’s hardly any fresher in here without it, you must admit. In fact, I may be improving the atmosphere by a measurable degree.”

“Sure you are.”

“Any distraction has to  be better than sitting idle and allowing ourselves to be assaulted by the death throes of contemporary music.” He let his head thunk back against the wall. “Is that 2Vile remixed? It’s not improved.”

“Not your kind of club, I take it,” she said drily. She rather enjoyed seeing him irked about his more snobbish tastes.

“Hardly,” he scoffed, blowing smoke toward the low, sooty ceiling.

“Perhaps you'll come away with some ideas on how to add a touch of class to Lux?” She chuckled at his aghast expression.

“Do you know, if this is what consulting for the police is going to be like until there’s another murder, I may commit one myself. For crimes against good taste, if nothing else. Who knew boredom could be so exhausting? Certainly a new experience for me.”

Chloe sighed. “It has been one of my more futile days, I’ll admit.” She watched him smoke, her eyes drawn to the bruised line barely visible just inside his shirt collar.  “How’s your neck?”

He cut dark eyes over at her. “Fine. As bored as the rest of me, if you must know.” A suggestion of a grin, eyelids lowering. “Though I can think of several ways we might entertain each other.”

“I’m sure you can. Like maybe talking to me about the attack this morning?”

He sagged a little, the hopeful tension bleeding out of him on a breath of smoke. “Redundancy is only entertaining when it involves orgasms, a concept you seem bizarrely opposed to. If we have to ‘chat,’ maybe that’s a conundrum more worth the effort?”  When she kept staring at him expectantly, he shrugged. “There’s nothing to tell, Detective. Really.”

“You said these people couldn’t hurt you. They weren’t ‘significant’ enough. So, what’s different about this morning? That—” she pointed to his open collar “—doesn’t look insignificant to me.”

“And yet, it is.” He grimaced, sitting up again and flicking his cigarette butt into an empty paint can. “I think I’m ready to talk about the boring cases again. At least there were naked people at the artists’ studio, so the day wasn’t entirely wasted. Think I should take them up on their offer to paint me—well, paint on me?” He stood and stretched luxuriously, long-limbed and elegant against the dingy back room clutter. “What do you think? Nautical scene? Dashing captain? Sexy pirate?”

“Mm-hmm. Helmsman of a very small dinghy?” she proposed sweetly.

His eyes sparkled, amused, and he propped himself on the edge of an overturned filing cabinet. “Not a connoisseur of living art, Detective?” His posture indicated clearly that the ‘art’ in question wasn’t the future painting, but its canvas.

“Let’s just say I have better things to do with my time.”

He humphed. “Like this incredibly fruitful and exciting partnership with the Missing Persons Unit?”

Chloe rested her elbows on her knees, chin on folded hands, frowning. “How is it that just about everyone we’ve talked to are the wrong people to be asking? I mean, the body painter lives alone, no family, but her boss reported her absence. Don’t you think it’s odd that the other artists she works beside every day don’t seem to notice she’s gone?”

“Maybe she’s just not enough of a talent to be noticed. This is L.A., after all.”

“No, her boss said she’s one of the most requested artists in the studio. And the video game guy’s family went out of town on a Caribbean cruise without him. Why would you leave town with a family member missing? On a cruise, no less—largely out of reach by phone or email. It doesn’t make sense.”

“Human apathy? Ignorance? Stupidity? I imagined you’d meet enough low-lifes in your line of work not to be surprised by that kind of thing, Detective.”

“These aren’t ‘low-lifes,’ Lucifer. They’re just average, everyday people.”

“Never doubt average, everyday humanity’s penchant for always wanting something they don’t have, or wanting to get rid of something they’ve tired of. Including thirty-year old basement dwellers, artistic competitors, and cheating lovers.” Lucifer sat back on the file cabinet, looking pleased with his theory.

“What? You think all of these cases are actually murders of convenience, disguised as missing persons?” she said doubtfully. “I think maybe you’ve watched too many police procedural dramas on tv.”

“I’ll admit that my vision of humanity might be a little bit one-sided. After all, I only dealt with the more interesting or devious ones even in Hell. Oh, spare me the skeptical look, Detective. You might not believe in my Devilish history, but the deadly sins certainly aren’t unfamiliar to a homicide cop.”

Chloe shook off the religious references; she was getting increasingly good at taking his delusions or play-acting (or whatever it was) in stride. “But, in that case, why go through the trouble to report a missing person at all?”

“To throw us off the scent, of course.”

“In one case, maybe. But several is too much coincidence.” Chloe chewed her lip, thinking. “You know, most missing person investigations are plagued with requests for information and follow-up. If they aren’t, it typically means the victim showed up again on their own. But we’re seeing very little of that. None, in fact.”

“See?” he said, persistent. “More evidence that I’m right, and they’re looking to just enjoy the new status quo.  I mean, except for perhaps the body painter, I wouldn’t go out of my way to keep any of these people in my life. Would you?”

Rubbing her temples again, Chloe wondered if brainstorming with Lucifer Morningstar was at all helpful or just making things more surreal. At least it passed the time. “Everyone we’ve spoken with today, minus your veteran Romeo, doesn't even know the victim—for one reason or another. We’re somehow missing all the friends, colleagues, even enemies. Statistically speaking, it’s nearly impossible to come up so empty.” She fell silent for a moment. “I don’t like coincidence.”

With a bang, the door to the main lounge opened onto a world of strobing lights and thumping bass, and a young white woman bobbed her way through. Her pristine white leather jacket and jeans and copious silver jewelry seemed out of place in the dusty room of broken equipment. Tossing blonde hair from side to side and holding massive headphones in place with one hand, she pushed the door closed behind her and shouted at them. “Yeah? Tim said you wanted something?”

“Detective Decker, LAPD.” Chloe showed her badge and gestured for the woman to remove her headphones. “We wanted to talk to you about your roommate.”

“I’m in the middle of a gig, yeah?” She shoved the headphones down onto her shoulders, shaking out her hair and scowling. “That dick T-Ray didn’t show up tonight, so I’ve got to run straight through into prime time. They better pay me in more than drinks and high fives for this, yeah? Now, what do you want again?”

Her eyes shifted from Chloe to Lucifer. “Speaking of want —hello, gorgeous. I’ll bet you ain’t no cop. Not unless you’re the kind that comes out for bachelorette parties.” She fingered his lapel, still grooving a little to the rhythms muffled by the closed door.

“Let’s move this along, shall we?” Lucifer said to Chloe, sliding his fingertips beneath the DJ’s chin and turning her face gently toward his. His magnetic smile was an invitation edged with sin, voice smooth and intimate. “Now, my lovely…”

Nifty trick of the trade, Chloe thought with just a touch of envy. No matter how often she saw it, she couldn’t help but be fascinated and disturbed by his uncanny power over people. And relieved it didn’t seem to work on her.

“Why don’t you tell me—” He stopped suddenly, eyes sliding down the girl’s loose tank top. “Wait. Why on earth do you go by ‘Double D’? You’re not exactly …” He cupped both hands in front of his chest and wiggled his fingers.

Chloe gaped at him. Harassment charges waiting to happen. No, harassment charges being courted with flowers and wine. Expecting Lucifer to be able to talk to someone named “DJ Double D” and not act like—well, himself—was like giving Donald Trump a microphone and saying, “Here - hold this, but don't say anything offensive.” Why did she bring him again? Did she want to lose her job?

The girl followed his gaze down to where her petite body belied her DJ name. “Real name’s Donna Dickson,” she giggled, looking flattered rather than offended. “D.D. Some of the other DJs thought it was funny, then cool, then it sorta stuck. And why not? White girl trying to make it in the gangsta rap DJ game? ‘Double D’ opens doors.”  She shrugged and leaned against him, fingers roaming. “When I can afford it, I might make it happen, too. Whatd’ya think about that, gorgeous?”

Lucifer actually seemed to consider the girl, eyeing her thoughtfully as if she were a potential new art installation or samples of wallpaper. “More of a leg man, honestly,” he said after a moment. “But why mess with a good thing? Wouldn’t your namesake rather get in the way of your turntables? Seems counterproductive, if you ask me.”

The DJ blinked at him, and Chloe had to bite the inside of her cheek to stifle a laugh.

Curiosity satisfied, Lucifer continued, voice deepening and softening again as if sharing a dirty little secret. “So, tell us, Donna, about this missing roomie of yours? Heard from her lately? Hoping to not hear from her, perhaps?”

“Lucifer,” Chloe hissed warningly.

The DJ frowned. “I—I don’t know—”

“Oh, come now,” Lucifer purred. “Donna, you’re definitely not one of the complex ones. I can tell. You reported her missing to the police over three weeks ago. What was it you hoped they’d do? Let it out.”

“No, really—” The brash, flirtatious facade dropped away, and the DJ was suddenly just a young woman barely out of her teens, weary after a long night at a job that didn’t pay, deflated, confused. “I don’t know what you mean. What roommate?”

Chloe felt a sudden chill. She groped for the photo in her file, a print of a woman with short dark hair, laughing behind a lifted champagne glass. “This one,” she said, holding up the photo. “Cindi Sanchez. You came to the station, told the officer in charge that you’d been rooming together for nearly 2 years. You met her shortly after you arrived in L.A.”

Lucifer leaned closer. “Tell us about Cindi. You know she’s on your mind.”

The girl stared at the photo and shuddered, wrapping her arms around herself and clutching the sleeves of her jacket. “Oh my God...” Face as pale as her clothing, she looked as if she were going to be sick. Lucifer caught her elbow as her legs gave way, lowering her sit on the filthy concrete floor. She buried her face in shaking hands and moaned, “Oh, Cindi.”

“Donna? What’s wrong? You need to talk to us, please.”

When Chloe crouched beside her, the DJ snatched at her hands with clammy fingers. “You-you’re detectives, right? Have you heard from Cindi? Has she come back? Where is she?” A flood of questions, panicky and breathless, poured from the girl as she looked from Lucifer to Chloe, stricken. “Oh, my God. What happened to me?”

Chloe grasped the girl’s cold hands in hers. Shock? “What do you mean ‘what happened to you,’ Donna? ”

Wet blue eyes found hers, desperate and earnest, pupils blown in the dim light and more vulnerable than Chloe would have imagined five minutes before. “Detective, I swear I’m not a bad person. But I haven’t even thought about her in—weeks? I don’t know. I didn’t remember. What’s wrong with me? How could I not remember? She’s my best friend!”

Chloe did her job automatically, reassuring the woman and trying to talk her carefully though the last few weeks, confirming with her boss that this was a police emergency and that Donna wouldn’t be finishing her extra set, calling the station to double check facts with the original MPU officer in charge of the case. While she worked, Lucifer’s dark eyes followed her around the room, but he left her to do what needed to be done with surprising patience. He sat with the girl on the floor in his shirt-sleeves, his coat thrown around her shivering shoulders, allowing her to lean against him miserably. No off-color remarks. No complaints.

Six missing people on her docket out of nearly fifty open MPU cases. One teenaged skate punk, one New Age brother who co-owned a popular head shop, one elderly woman who (according to Lucifer) still got around, a body painting artist of substantial talent, a professional video game tester, and the apartment roommate of a novice hip hop DJ. Nothing to connect them outside of living or working near the waterfront. Except that the people in their lives didn’t really seem to care, especially after the initial report-—or, worse, had forgotten them entirely.

How was that even possible? Chloe felt the tingle in her gut that precipitated suspicions she didn’t want to have, couldn’t yet articulate, and that other cops wouldn’t like. Again.

When the woman rolled away from Lucifer to vomit violently behind the old soundboard, Chloe offered to call the paramedics.

“Could—could I just go home, instead?” the DJ asked quietly, all posturing long gone. “Would you just take me home?”

While Lucifer tucked the girl into the back seat of the cruiser (like an actual professional who paid attention to police protocols), Chloe felt her cell phone buzzing in her pocket. She glanced at the screen before answering. “Hey, Dan. Kinda in the middle of something here.”

Her ex’s voice sounded tense even over the speaker. “Yeah, me, too, okay? Where’ve you been? I’ve tried to call you four times. Look, you’re not going to like this. Just be calm. Everything’s fine.”

Chloe stiffened, moving away down the alley, sidestepping oily puddles and miscellaneous trash that spilled from the club’s stinking dumpster. “What, Dan? What am I not going to like? Is something wrong at your mom’s? Is Trixie okay?”

“Trixie’s fine,” the tinny voice continued, “Or I’m pretty sure she is. The bus is getting here right now, so—”

Chloe felt tendrils of panic worming into her insides, strangling her case worries, restricting her breathing. “Bus? What bus, Dan? Why in hell is our eight-year-old on a bus? Tell me your mom is with her.”

Dan coughed uncomfortably. “Um, no. Mom had something come up, I guess. I’m still not entirely sure what, but she sent Trixie back up to LA on Greyhound.”

“What?” she shouted, concern making her short tempered. “You let your mom ship our daughter between two major cities alone on a Greyhound bus? Are you stupid?”

“I didn’t know!” he said, the fear in his own voice sharpening it. “Damn it, Chloe, if I had known—”

“You’d have been too busy to go get her. Isn’t that right?”

“That’s not fair. I didn’t know until it was done, Chloe, I swear. She—I used to ride the public buses all the time as a kid. She didn’t mean—”

“Things were different thirty years ago. And you’re not a little girl, Dan!”

“Look--the bus is right here; it’s pulling in now. I’ve been at the station, and trying to get through to you.”

“This is the last time she goes to your mother’s without you.”

“Yeah. Yeah, I know.”  There was a long pause, filled with the hissing and squeal of bus brakes and the muddled noise of voices. Chloe waited in anxious silence, pacing between the police sedan and the dumpster, phone clutched to her ear. “Well?” She couldn’t help but press. “Dan?”

“She’s—she’s here, Chloe.” His voice was muffled, as if his hands were full and the phone had slipped on his shoulder. “Hey, monkey! How was your trip? Here, talk to Mommy for a minute, okay, and I’ll get your backpack.”

Chloe doubled over in relief when a gleeful little voice rang through the receiver. “Mommy! I rode in a Greyhound! There was this nice lady who sat with me, and she smelled like moth balls. And Nana took me to the zoo, and I learned to make a noise like a howler monkey. Want to hear?”

“That sounds like lots of fun,” Chloe breathed, forcing her voice to steady. “I’m glad you had lots of adventures. I’ll see you soon, and you can tell me all about it, okay? Put Daddy back on the phone?”

Dan’s voice was clearer, the bus station noise fading into the background: “So, can I bring her to where you are? Are you heading home soon?”

“I can’t, Dan.” Chloe wondered if he could hear her teeth grinding over the line. “I need to follow-through on a case right now. At a minimum, I’ve got to transport one of the victim’s family members home and get a new statement when she’s calmed down. Just get a sitter if you can’t stay with Trixie yourself.” 

She heard a car door slam and imagined her daughter tucked safely into the backseat of Dan’s cruiser. “Chloe, look. I’m already supposed to be with Peterson on stakeout in Van Nuys. He can’t do it alone.”

“Tell him to call in backup. That’s why we have backup, Dan.”

“I can’t. This is the one I put off for Taco Tuesday; they rescheduled it around me, Chloe. I’ve got the best chance of—”

“They’re going to have to deal, Dan. You took her to your mom’s; as far as I am concerned, you let her come back early. So, it’s your job to figure this out. It’s not that hard.”

“C’mon, Chloe. Aren’t you just confirming protocol on MPU cases today, anyway?”

The frustrations of the entire day, her nebulous suspicions, and the momentary shock of hearing that her child was alone on a Greyhound bus suddenly coalesced into real anger. “Your work isn’t more important than mine, Detective Espinoza. And it’s certainly not more important than Trixie. You know, just when I think we’re working together better, you pull this shit. If you want shared custody, then that’s what it is. Shared! Take some damn responsibility for once and fix this. And don’t you dare let her know you’re bothered by her coming home early.”

“I already called both sitters,” came his response, more subdued. “They’re not available. I’m really out of options here. I just thought maybe—”

Chloe’s angry strides brought her up against the dumpster again, and she swung back to see Lucifer propped against the hood of the sedan, legs crossed, finishing another cigarette but watching her closely through the smoke. He raised his eyebrows. So much for keeping her private life out of their partnership.

“Fine,” she growled, marching back toward the car. “Then you’ll have to drop her at Lux. I can be there in under an hour.”  She listened to the sudden quiet on the line with, she admitted, a hint of vicious satisfaction.

“Lux?” Dan finally sputtered. “I thought we agreed that Lucifer Morningstar wasn’t on the list of people Trixie got to hang out with?”

“Lucifer’s with me right now, Dan. But Lux is where we’re going after our stop uptown. If you can’t figure out your work situation, then she has to come where I am. And I will be at Lux,” she repeated with slow precision. “It’s on your way between the bus station and Van Nuys, so it shouldn’t take too much more of your time.”

“How is that any better than shoving her on a public bus? Do you have any idea what kind of people work for your narcissistic consultant buddy?”

“If it bothers you, you can just wait with her until I get there.”

“I can’t—I’ve already—”

“She’s not a problem, Dan. She’s your daughter. Stop treating her like she’s less important than your job. I swear, just when I think things are getting better between us.”

He was silent for a long moment, and she thought she heard his car door click open in the background. “Fine. Fine. I’ll take her there.”

Chloe hung up only to find Lucifer frowning and blocking the driver’s side door. “Did you just send Detective Douche and your spawn to Lux?”

She shot him a warning look. “Don’t start with me, Lucifer.”

“Den of iniquity, not daycare, Detective! We open in just over an hour! My clientele won’t want to be reminded of the potential consequences of some of their bad decisions.”

“Then we need to hurry,” she said tightly. “So, get out of my way and into the car if you don’t want to be left here.”

He looked like he might argue further, then turned abruptly to circle the car and slide in. (Maybe leaving him stranded every once in awhile had been good training?) After several minutes of sullen silence as they drove, he glanced sideways at her. “Isn’t it illegal to leave a child in a bar?”

“She won’t be there long. Stop making excuses.”

Lucifer huffed, and a few more minutes passed before: “Sending your ex back to deal with Maze seems a bit unusually cruel for you, Detective. Twice now? Sure that’s such a good idea? Sure he’s up for it?”

“Why not? Worked fine last time.”

“Did it?” He hummed noncommittally. “Maze seemed awfully amused about something. But then, she never did tell me exactly what happened.” Lucifer was silent for several minutes again, staring dolefully out the window at the late afternoon streets. “And this is why we should’ve taken my Corvette. We could have done this in half the time.”

“By breaking every traffic law on the books, you mean?”

“I’ve never once been ticketed or fined, Detective,” he replied. “Or frisked, come to think of it. A missed opportunity, if you ask me.”

 


 

Mazikeen sat mid-way up the stairs, one booted foot propped on the wrought iron rails, watching the Lux staff priming the nightclub for business. The dancers milled about, tugging at their costumes and helping the security guys push tables and booths to their most advantageous locations. The sound team edged around behind her upstairs, resetting cues and occasionally calling up to the technicians checking lights on the catwalks. Patrick strode back and forth across the floor, a crate of fine wines from the latest shipment balanced on one shoulder for unloading at the secondary bar. Her glittering eyes followed him in particular, the play of muscle beneath his tattoos drawing her attention for a moment before she returned to her task.

Her two claw-like demon blades were balanced across her knee, their etched surfaces fracturing the light. She caressed each in turn with a bit of ragged black fabric that reeked of kerosene and synovial fluid, an otherworldly residue from millennia of polishing the Hell-forged metal. The staff had seen her smoothing away tiny nicks and scratches often enough, and--over time—come to accept the ritual as one of their mistress’ many quirks, just one more weirdness that came with the opportunity to work at Morningstar’s successful venue. This evening, they scuttled around her perch more nervously than usual. As she scoured away the scorch-marks left from Batraal’s blood, Maze could almost swear that she still smelled corrupted angel in the air, and it made her edgy and snappish. Even Patrick had left her alone tonight.

“Um.” The voice above her on the landing was human, male, and pleasurably disconcerted.

Stretching back against the railing to better see the unexpected visitor, Mazikeen raised a scarred eyebrow in surprise. Lucifer’s pet detective’s ex looked less confident than he had when he came to examine the books, but certainly more so than when garbed in his wife’s pink tracksuit and slippers. Maze looked him over slowly, a half-smile curling her lips. “Change your mind about arresting me after all, big man?” she purred, catching the delicious waver in his confidence when her gaze raked over him from lips to groin to toes.

Dan Espinoza hooked a thumb into his belt loop in what she expected was a human effort to look casual. Or perhaps to highlight the sidearm on his hip. Either way, a wasted effort. “Not this time,” he answered, disgruntled. “Maybe later.”

Maze’s smile widened, showing teeth. ”Can’t perform without your wife’s monkey slippers?”

“The monkey slippers are Grandma Decker’s,” chirped a second higher-pitched voice. A round-faced girl child with pony-tails, rainbow leggings and a vivid pink sweater peered down at Mazikeen through the railing. Her small fingers gripped the top bar as if it were one of those outdoor playsets where the humans tried unsuccessfully to exhaust their shrieking uterus goblins.

The demon cocked her head, unimpressed. “I see you brought backup this time.”

Dan ground his teeth. “This is my daughter, Trixie,” he said with evident unwillingness. “Trixie, this is—” He gave Maze a hard stare, a fascinating mixture of threat and reluctance and uncertainty. “This is Lucifer’s friend, Miss Mazikeen.”

Trixie practically vibrated with excitement, slipping past her father’s restraining hand and down the stairs to where Maze lounged. “You know Lucifer? You’re his friend, too?” the goblin asked, small face alight as she made herself comfortable two steps up and nearly nose to nose with the demon.

Maze took her time examining her up close. Bright colors, soft and fleshy body, but with vibrant, dark, mischievous eyes and a distinct smell of chocolate. Her front teeth were uneven, giving her a quirky, off-balanced look that reminded Mazikeen of some of the fallen cherubim back home. Wicked little monsters and so much fun if you could put up with their gibbering and nonsense. Mostly just to see what the creature would do, she answered, “I’ve known Lucifer most of my existence. I came with him from Hell.”

“Oh.” Trixie nodded, as if coming from Hell was commonplace. “He came with Mommy to my school once,” she offered in exhange. “He made Bev Maxwell scream for being mean on Snapchat, but I’d already kicked her good, so he didn’t need to.” Her eyes shone with pride. “The principal sent me home.”

“Really.” Punishing schoolyard bullies? Mazikeen looked at her again, speculative.

“Look,” Dan interrupted, marching downstairs to catch the child by one hand and pull her to her feet. “I don’t really want to be here—”

“Mmm, but here you are nonetheless.” Maze stretched, tipping her chin back to expose the long, sleek line of her throat and the low cut of her leather corset. “Hoping that I’ll assault you again? Or maybe do something else against the law with your nake—”

“No!” Dan cut her off with a furious glare and glanced pointedly at the child. “No. I just—.” Maze could see him mastering himself and wondered if he was creeped out or turned on by her jibes. Both would be preferable. “Chloe and Lucifer are on their way here now, and I need to get Trixie to her mom. Can she just wait here for them?”

So that was it. Mazikeen supposed Lucifer would expect her to allow it, even if it was bad for business. Hell, Chloe Decker was bad for business—and bad for Lucifer—but that seemed to be the phase they were in for now. “Is she on the List?” she teased, having fun needling Decker’s ex. “21 or older?”

“Look—,” he started again.

Maze rose smoothly to her feet, flashing the pair of daggers as she tucked them back out of sight behind her, enjoying both the detective's defensive startle and the wide-eyed, fascinated gasp from his kid. “Come on, then. Don’t get in anyone’s way.” She strolled downstairs. “Drink?”

Dan pointed Trixie to one of the expansive booths away from the bar, dropping a bulging backpack onto the table in front of her. “I’m on duty.”

Mazikeen gave the officer a contemptuous look as she reached for a bottle. “Wasn't asking you.” The demon poured herself several fingers of cinnamon scented liquor, a bottle one of the staff had brought in as a suggestion, then looked questioningly at Trixie.

“She’s eight,” Dan bit out, disgusted.

Maze swirled the fireball liquor in her glass, inhaling its strong cinnamon heat, and eyed the bottle’s distinctive yellow and red label. “Her loss. Supposed to taste like candy and burn like Hell,” she shrugged before throwing the shot back. Disappointing. Humans never got Hell right. She dropped the bottle in the trash, grabbed some Macallan as a palate-cleanser, and made a mental note to fire whichever employee thought that would fit in at Lux.

Unzipping the child’s backpack, Dan pulled out some crayons, a coloring book, and an enormous chocolate cupcake in a plastic container. “Here, Trix. How about you color and have a snack while I talk to Miss Mazikeen, okay?” Maze noted that although she nodded, the spawn continued busily gazing around at the club. Some of the dancers hurried over, smiling and cooing over the diminutive goblin, clearly delighted.

Mazikeen drained her glass.

“Tell me there’s a responsible adult here somewhere? I’m supposed to be at work right now,” Dan said, tense but leaning against the counter and striving for a coolness the demon knew he didn’t feel. “Chloe said she’d be less than an hour. And, as much as I hate it, your pain-in-the-ass boss is coming with her.”

“I wish he would just come with her, so he could get her off his to-do list,” Mazikeen said, snide and mostly to herself. It was an unexpected bonus to see the detective’s ex flinch. Interesting. “I don’t do favors for cops. And that—” a nod at the child “—is breaking club rules and probably some human law. Not that rules and laws are a problem for me.” She licked her teeth. “They are for you, though, aren't they? So, what will you give me in return for aiding and abetting?”

“What do you want?” The human braced against the bar. “What could you possibly want from me?”

The demon looked him over again, watching the pulse point leap beneath his jaw, his fingers whiten on the edge of the counter. She looked at his perfectly serviceable mouth, shoulders that were probably stronger than they appeared, wary grey eyes. Ultimately, however, there was only one thing he might provide that was worth the effort. “I want you to keep your ex out of Lucifer’s life.”

Dan snorted. “You don’t know Chloe very well, do you?”

“I like it that way.”

“Well, you should know I’m not likely to keep her from anything she wants to do. Even your boss,” he added with a scowl. “But, I’d be more than happy to do what I can. Good enough? Deal?”

Maze tipped her glass toward him in a minimal toast before turning away.

The gaggle of dancers politely scattered when Dan squatted down to tell Trixie goodbye. “You’re really good with staying here, monkey? You don’t have to if you don’t want to.”

“I like it here. I’m making friends.” The child pointed to the scantily clad women who had been hanging over the back of her booth. “That’s Jenny and Nikki and Julia. And Patrick’s over there, but he’s busy.  And Miss Ma--Marzipan,” she stumbled over Maze’s unfamiliar name. “And I want to see Lucifer! Nikki says Lucifer lives here. Well, up there.” She pointed toward the ceiling.

Dan sighed. “Well, you have your phone if you need me, right?” He patted the front pouch on her backpack. “And Mommy will be here soon.”

“I know.” She grinned up at him, gleefully stuffing a chunk of cupcake into her mouth, scattering the topping of chocolate chips across the table. “You can go to work, Daddy. I’ll be here if you need me .”

Misgivings or not, Dan hugged her tightly and headed for Van Nuys.

After he had gone, Maze watched Trixie from behind the bar for several minutes. She hadn’t been around many human spawn; the ones she saw on the street looked loud and unpleasant, sucking all the attention out of a space, screaming along like they were pursued by Hell’s less talented torturers. She had always assumed children to be not very bright, but capable of unfocused destruction and a probable source of misery, just like the corrupted cherubim downstairs. The demon approved of such a resource, but avoided it almost instinctively.

This one was unexpected, however, a mixture of cheer and fearlessness and awe and pride and a hint of purposeful violence. Maze dropped into the wide circular booth across from the kid, hooking one heel over the edge of the table and tapping her jeweled fingers near the mess of crumbs and run-away chocolate chips. She was used to her hard, cool gaze engendering nervous behavior or even hopeful flirtation in humans, but the goblin simply ate her cupcake and stared back in apparent shared interest.

After a minute of staring, Trixie offered with weighty certainty, “You should have asked him for chocolate cake.”

“Why would I want to do that?”

“I got a whole year of cake from him last week.” The child grinned, icing in her teeth, clearly proud of herself. That gooey smile might have been grotesque to her parents, but the demon found it oddly familiar, mischievous and compelling.

“For what?” Maze couldn’t help but ask.

“For sneaking him out of the house before Mommy knew he was there.”

“Did you, now?” The demon smiled. That explained a few things. “You made a deal with your dad. When he needed your help.”

“Yep!”

“And that’s how you know about the monkey slippers?”

“I picked them out,” Trixie said promptly. “Daddy said to get him some clothes because he wasn’t wearing any, but all I could get was some of the stuff in the laundry. Grandma left the slippers for me, but they’re stupid, and they fit bigger feet. They were already in my room.”

Maze snorted. “You thought that was good look for your dad?”

“He looked so funny!” Trixie sniggered, impish. “But Mommy didn't see, so I got cake.”

“You smuggled your dad out of your house dressed like RuPaul on a bender.” Maze was actually impressed. “For a year of cake?”

“I guess so. Do you like chocolate?” Trixie turned her now battered cupcake around and pushed it across the table to Maze.

“I like chocolate.” Maze plucked a single chip off the top and tossed it deftly up into the air and into her mouth. When the deal-making, father-teasing, confusing, intriguing goblin-child looked at her with large, admiring eyes, the demon tilted her head, puzzled at the sensation that felt something like pride and something like the weariness after a long day of brutal battle. Satisfaction, of a sort. Is this what Lucifer saw in humans lately? Surely not.

She picked off another chip and repeated the toss, unerring in her aim. “Chocolate is better when liquefied by body heat, but blackmail chocolate is pretty good, too.”

Trixie nodded as if she understood, kneeling up on the seat to reach for one of the scattered chips on the table. “Daddy said your name was Miss Marzipan. That’s a funny name.”

“Mazikeen,” the demon corrected. “But you can call me Maze.”

When the child threw the chocolate chip up and into her own mouth on the first try, Maze wasn’t sure which of them looked more pleased.

 


 

As Dan strode hastily for his car, he didn’t notice the trio of mismatched men lingering in the empty alley beside Lux, preternaturally still in the evening haze, shadowed by the towering high-rise walls. The street lamp above them smoked dismally, its shattered light bulb blackened. The hipster stood with his hands behind his back, an almost military stance, while the other two watched him as if waiting for a sign. The tallest one, with tattered clothes and tangled, dirty hair, stood hunched, one arm tucked protectively against his chest as if its missing hand pained him.

And the third was laughing, a soundless mad giggle that set his feathered top hat to jittering. Shaking with laughter, he crouched and slid his hands along the pitted surface of the alleyway, fingers prying out loose chunks of asphalt, seeking dirt beneath. “Here, and here, and here,” he whispered. “If this new den be what ties the Lord of Hell to this worthless plane, that tie can be severed.”

The tall, grimy man spat a gob of black liquid that flared bright like magnesium and vanished as it fell. “And his pet Lilim? The demon Mazikeen?” he croaked, voice shattered.

“And her,” said the red-haired man easily. “If we work together. Go to, brothers.”

Already several blocks away, driving intently and worried about what Chloe would say when she found Trixie unaccompanied at the nightclub, Dan didn’t feel it when the ground began to tremble.

 

Chapter Text

When the first tremors passed underfoot, the growing line of revelers waiting at Lux’s door barely paused in their loud, eager chatter. A few shared knowing glances, then went back to laughing and flirting with attractive strangers. Small quakes were regular occurrences for LA residents; and for the visitors, a tiny quake was actually a little exciting, just a few seconds of titillation—evidence that they were really in Southern California, future home of “the Big One,” and in Los Angeles, the city where anything could happen.

Someone giggled near the front of the line, pointing out the obvious and impressed with their own cleverness. What did you expect at the door to the devil’s own nightclub? Maybe Lucifer Morningstar and his demonic entourage were kicking off the celebration early? After all, little threat from deep under the earth was the perfect start for a night to remember.

The bouncer smiled dryly (never heard that one before, nope, not once) and checked the time with an inaudible sigh. Nearly time to open.

Downstairs, the amber liquid in Mazikeen’s abandoned tumbler rippled. Glasses clinked softly. Standing bottles shivered in place. The catwalks began to vibrate, ringing, an eerie music of steel and air. Some of the heavy Fresnel spotlights swayed, slow and ponderous, their gel-colored beams moving over the floor. Something creaked, the sound of stressed wood like the warning cry of something feral and too close.

Eyeing the gantlet of mirrors and bottles behind the bar, Patrick waved other staff out onto the floor and followed them in a deliberately casual amble. He leaned against one of the pillars and folded his tattooed arms, looking up at the tiny sway starting in the rows of light bulbs and the reflections quivering across mirrored surfaces. He glanced toward Maze, but his boss was sharing matching chocolate-toothed grins with the detective’s little girl, apparently unconcerned.

The bartender had only a moment to draw reassurance from his boss's nonchalance before the floor juddered beneath his shoes, the concrete vibrating as if a cargo locomotive rushed by at top speed. One of the dancers squeaked, stumbling and catching herself against the piano. The golden lights that lined Lux’s ceiling and walls had begun to rock more obviously, arrhythmic, tapping against each other. Behind him at the bar, a single bottle crashed to the floor in an explosion of liquid and glass. Seconds later, two more shattered, and Patrick was moving across the nightclub, gesturing for the dancers and security guards and bar staff, striding over the uncertain floor even as balance became difficult. “Inner walls, people,” he barked. “Get out from under the lights and mirrors. Not the piano, Nikki. We’ve been over this.”

He seized the edge of the booth where Mazikeen still sprawled, her head tipped back now to watch the increasing motion of the building around her with fearless curiosity. “Hey, Boss, we need to—” he began, but the child spoke over him.

“Drop, cover, and hold on,” she said forcefully, parroting something she probably learned in earthquake drills in school. She reached out to grab Mazikeen’s fingers in hers, and began wriggling from the booth. “Come on, Maze!”

With a sudden roar, the ground rolled hard beneath them, a wave of force that dropped the bartender to his knees. Clinging to the booth with one hand, he grabbed Trixie with the other as she spilled out of her seat. The floor bucked violently, lighter tables and chairs suddenly airborne, clattering down, overturning, sliding. Above them, metal screamed and a lighting rig swung free at one side, trailing power cables, spilling lights to the floor, spraying metal and glass in all directions. Shoving the child between the seat and the heavy table, Patrick covered his own face with his other arm just as tiny glass shards bit into his bare skin. The floor leapt again, concrete rolling like the ocean, pitching him painfully onto one shoulder. Mirrors burst all around. The sudden ozone smell of electricity burned in the air, and all he could do was curl in on himself, back pressed to the furniture, trying to cover his head and neck and hoping the others were more secure and that the child stayed put.

“Maze! Maze, drop and cover!” Trixie called from behind him, her frightened voice almost inaudible over the whine of bending metal and a truly ominous cracking and booming as the very floor beneath him began to rupture.

Huddled at the base of the booth, Patrick felt his boss's legs slide over him as she pulled herself to her feet. One of her heels ground uncomfortably into his stomach for a moment, then was gone as if she had simply walked away. Walked away? In those stilettos? He dared to look up over his arm before having to grab the floor again as it rolled queasily beneath him. “Maze! Kid’s right!” he shouted through the din, trying to see the woman in quick glances while protecting his eyes from dust and debris. “Get down!”

She didn’t answer, or he didn’t hear her over the noise of the quake.

All around, Lux was falling. Hanging ductwork ripped free of its mooring, dragging ceiling panels down with it, smashing apart over furniture. Light fixtures shattered on the straining floor. Chairs rolled, crashing and splitting against sturdier objects, and even Lucifer’s piano squealed and twanged as it slid to one side, its bench overturned beneath it. The fire alarm began to shrill, painfully loud even over the roaring and crashing of the quake, and then suddenly, unnervingly, it cut off, leaving Patrick's ears ringing. The nightclub’s remaining lights flickered, failed, then stuttered back to life, one area on, then out, then on again. Then blackness.

Someone screamed, high-pitched, startled.

Generator lighting kicked on, clicking and blinking uncertainly, dim red bulbs casting a hellish glow in the otherwise dark, windowless space.

When he thought the rolling was beginning to slow, Patrick lifted his head. The dust-choked, red-tinged dark was cut only by sputtering wires on fallen lighting rigs and the fitful flicker of the giant, crooked “X” near the bar, one large letter still hanging from the Lux sign and somehow drawing erratic power. Something hissed and sizzled, and he was sure he smelled the acrid scent of electrical fire, burning plastic and insulation. Was there an ominous glow from the back hallway or was it just his imagination? If there was fire, the nightclub might go up like a tinderbox—”quake-proof” concrete and steel structure notwithstanding. So much alcohol. So many power lines. Where was the gas main for the entire building, again?

Everything shuddered rapidly for a few more seconds before settling, eerily still.

Through the dimness, the bartender could see the shape of Mazikeen several feet away, half-crouched, turning slowly on the spot, those bizarre daggers gripped in each hand as though she expected an attack. Her lean silhouette flickered in and out of sight, backlit briefly, then falling into smoky, reddish shadow. In the sudden silence, he could have sworn he heard her growl.

When the floor lurched again in aftershock, he instinctively clung to it, but kept his eyes on Mazikeen. She moved smoothly, her steps unerring, as if the ground wasn’t still shifting beneath her feet. A shadow among the shadows, she paused just above him. “I’m going to find them,” she snarled, her gaze roving around the ruined nightclub. “This affront must be answered.”

“Find who?” Patrick tried to ask as she passed, but he choked suddenly, swallowing an unexpected breath of sulfur and decay. Had the sewer broken open, as well? Gagging and coughing, he braced himself against the booth until he could speak again. “Who?” he gasped after her.

But she was already gone. Mazikeen sprang up the the half-blocked stairs like a leopard caught for a second in the flickering lights before the darkness consumed her.

Bemused and shaken, Patrick was still staring after his boss when Trixie slipped past him, unseen, to follow.

 


 

“Oh my God.” Standing beside her open car door, Chloe stared in horror at the chaos around the high-rise building that housed Lux. Fire trucks and other emergency vehicles stood across visible fissures in the road, lights flashing dolefully. Water gushed into the street from broken mains. Tendrils of black smoke stretched up from invisible fires, and every window in the lower floors of the art deco skyscraper looked shattered, glass and debris littering the sidewalks. Patrons stood in frightened clumps, being tended at the back of ambulances, swathed in blankets and offered bandages for bruises and scrapes. Restaurants and shops across the street, astoundingly unaffected, had opened their doors to allow people to come inside to sit down—and to expel gaping onlookers onto the street. Police were hastily erecting a bright yellow cordon around the building to keep them back, weaving a little with the occasional aftershocks that thrummed through the earth beneath them.

Chloe stabbed Trixie’s number on her phone, frantic, but no one answered; Dan’s phone went straight to voicemail, too. Stake-out procedures meant he was missing the terrifying all-call over police radio, summoning available units to the area of a massive quake. “Highly localized” and “substantial structural damage expected” and “possible terrorist activity” were repeated more than once, until Chloe forced herself to tune it out.

Maybe Dan was still here? Trapped in the building with their little girl, cell reception down? Or maybe, just maybe, they hadn’t even arrived yet?

But Chloe prided herself on being a realist. After a minute of hopeful panic, heart pounding in her throat, she squared her shoulders and shoved her phone into her pocket. Dan and Trixie would have arrived half an hour before, probably more. Trixie, at least, was in there, along with most of the Lux staff.

Those were the facts to work from for now. She could do this.

She followed Lucifer past the police blockade, flashing her badge at unfamiliar cops to excuse his brusque dismissal of their demands to stop. “He’s with me. He owns the club,” she filled in weakly, hurrying after him, feeling a bit like the earth was still moving beneath her even though she knew it (mostly) wasn’t.

Another cop caught her sleeve. “Sorry, detective. Emergency services hasn’t cleared the building for entry yet. They’re having trouble gaining entrance at all. You should stay back.” He nodded at Lucifer who stared up at the building from the sidewalk corner, oblivious to the potential for continued collapse or falling glass. “Him, too.”

“Thanks,” she muttered. “Understood.”

Lucifer scowled, looking less like a man concerned for his livelihood and friends and more as if the earthquake was some kind of personal insult. His mouth was set in a fierce line, tight with anger; one hand flexed, fingers stretching and closing into a fist. He ignored her until she touched his shoulder, then startled slightly, eyes widening as he glanced down at her. “Detective?”

“They’re telling us we can’t get in just yet,” she said, hating the tremble in her voice. “Trixie—” She breathed in and out. Steady. Steady. “And Mazikeen. All of your staff.”

“Then I’ll assume you aren’t inclined to listen to your inept and over-cautious colleagues?” He moved away as he spoke, long legs carrying him across the overturned velvet rope near the main entrance. “I intend to go in. Now.”

Chloe nodded. She didn’t think she could wait on the sidelines, either, no matter what her lieutenant would say about common sense police work. Ask forgiveness, not permission. “Yeah. If we can find a way.”

Finding the main door collapsed and unpassable, Lucifer growled and turned down the side alley for the lower level parking garage and rear entrance. As they rounded the corner, the vivid plaid duster and the mane of red and grey hair were all Chloe saw before her partner charged with almost inhuman speed. He seized the hipster by his lapels and slammed him against the closest parked car, cracking a window and triggering the bleat of its cheap alarm system. “Is this your doing?” Lucifer roared, shoving the man again so that his head bounced off the roof of the car, his red glasses frames clattering to the asphalt.

Chloe reached for his arm. “Lucifer, don’t—” she began, uncertain. What did Lucifer know that she didn’t? Surely, these people couldn’t be involved in an earthquake? Unless they were terrorists? Former mobster, she could believe, but terrorist? “Lucifer. Stop!”

Lucifer ignored her and tightened his grip, snarling into the other man’s face. “What have you done, Samyaza?”

The hipster didn’t struggle, only lifting his pale hands in a defensive gesture. “Nothing. Nothing, I assure you.”  He met Lucifer’s fury with calm, his thick mustache even curving in a small smile. “Come now, Morningstar. Why would we? What is there to gain?”

“So, you just happened to be here? You used to lie better than that. You’re not even trying anymore.”

“You said we weren’t welcome inside your new home, so we are not inside,” Sam said agreeably, spreading his hands wider. “But it did pique our curiosity, you see. What draws you here, oh Lord of the Morning?” A hint of ironic deference, the barest edge of sarcasm.

Lucifer’s fingers whitened on the garish lapels.

Unmoved, the man spoke on. “What could possibly keep you on this plane? If you’ve no interest in returning to Hell, we would better understand the lure of this place. You cannot fault us for our interest, surely.”

Chloe’s skin prickled with unease. As before, something in this man’s placid confidence triggered all of her instincts for danger, but she couldn't put her finger on why. She stared at him hard, and for a second a twist of shadow seemed to slither across the gleaming surface of the car beneath him, passing over paint and glass like something alive. She stepped back hurriedly, blinking. A trick of the waning light? A reflection of the smoke above them? If that's all it was, why did it raise the hair at the nape of her neck?

“In fact,” the other man continued smoothly, “perhaps we can even help?”

“I need nothing from you except that you stay out of my way.” Lucifer released him with another vicious push.

“The humans seem very distressed by whatever has happened.” Bland eyes narrowed, searching Lucifer’s face. “As do you, I must admit. Surprising, Morningstar. Not what I expected at all.” Those eyes dropped to where the open collar of Lucifer’s shirt almost masked the purpling bruise from the attack outside the head shop. “Why is that, I wonder? Does this place matter to you so much?”

Lucifer didn’t answer, instead turning away toward the garage. “Come, Detective,” he muttered.

Sam smoothed his flamboyant mustache, straightened his scarf around his neck, and casually strolled after them. Chloe noticed that the man seemed only to have eyes for Lucifer, completely looking past her as if she weren’t even there. She watched him over her shoulder as they headed into the shadow of the parking area, grateful that he ignored her but also rankled by his automatic dismissal. Arrogant misogynist jerk. She gathered her feelings of indignation close, wielding them against the discomfiting surge of nerves that also accompanied having the stranger behind them, between them and their wide open exit.

Lucifer stopped short in front of her, and Chloe had to sidestep to avoid him, boots splashing into water. “Hey, watch—” Looking past his shoulder, she fell silent.

The garage ceiling had collapsed, massive iron girders and broken concrete slabs blocking both stairs and elevator. Water flooded along the floor around their feet, pouring beneath crushed cars and draining toward the main road. Oil swirled on the water’s surface, and the stench of gasoline mingled with the moldy wetness of broken water lines.

With a curse, Lucifer waded out to examine the wall of debris. He spread the fingers of one hand across it, leaning in as though he expected to simply shove it aside, as if testing his strength against it. The building above them groaned suddenly, a flurry of dust falling into the water, dropping on Lucifer’s dark clothes and hair like snow.  He growled again, stepping back and peering upward in frustration.

“Lucifer, the building’s not stable,” Chloe warned, gesturing for him to come away. “We can’t stay here.”

He ignored her, splashing around a boulder of concrete that stood taller than he did, broken fingers of rebar spiking out of it. When he disappeared from view, Chloe steeled herself against that uncanny fear again, turning so she could both see Samyaza several feet behind her and keep an eye on the rubble, which shifted again with a horrible grating of stone and squealing of metal. “Lucifer!” she called, her instinct to head back to the open street curtailed by the presence of the stranger in her path. “We’re not getting in this way! Come on before we’re trapped under here.”

Her partner came back into sight, soaked to his knees and grey with dust, his face dark and grim. He splashed toward the other man in long strides. “Where is Azazyel, Sam? This reeks of him.”

The hipster peered at his glasses as if checking them for damage. He settled the empty frames on his nose after a moment, calm, almost insolent, and shrugged. “Am I my brother’s keeper, Morningstar?”

Lucifer snorted, humorless. “After the way of Cain, certainly.”

Sam’s mustache quivered, then quirked upward on one side. “I told you, I’ve nothing to do with this. If Aza does, he acts on his own--as is our wont, you must admit. Besides,” he gestured toward the water-flooded garage, “destruction by flood is a bit too on the nose for me, yes? Irony was really more your thing.”

Lucifer looked doubtful. “You’ve raised Batraal, too, have you? How long do you think either of them will follow your lead? I think you remember how the last time ended.”

Even as she watched the ceiling with apprehension, Chloe catalogued the strange names—titles? Code words? Samyaza. Azazyel. Batraal. Was that the same “Bat” from earlier this morning? What on earth was going on?

Sam shook his head. “You have always been quick to anger and judgment when it comes to us. It’s unfair, Morningstar.”

“Unfair?” Lucifer’s laugh was withering. “The Grigori are predators, rats gnawing at my ankles in some bid for power. It will not be that way here, Sam. If you thought my judgment harsh previously, you will not want to test it here. Nor allow your lackeys to do so.”

Sam heaved a sigh, looking chagrined. “I cannot dispute the history between us. But this—.” He waved his chain-wrapped hand in the air, taking in the building above them and the flooded ground below. “This is not our doing. It nets us no gain. If you cannot believe altruism from us, at least you can see that it isn’t in our interest to court the Devil’s wrath.”

Lucifer grimaced. “In that case, move.”  He stalked back into the alleyway.

 


 

Trixie crept up the stairs behind her new friend, picking her way quietly in the darkness so that the grown-ups didn’t stop her. (Patrick seemed like he might try, if he realized she’d gone. Adults always tried to discourage her from going places without them.) Glass crunched beneath her sneakers. One of the collapsed lighting panels nearly blocked the top of the stairs, but she slipped beneath where it had caught in the ornate handrails, ducking and wriggling until she was past. She glanced back briefly over the destruction of the club, a cluttered, reddish landscape through which staff were just beginning to move like astronauts on the surface of a strange planet—hesitant, picking their way with caution. She thought she heard someone say her name, so she hurried out of sight and into the winding corridors that led toward the nightclub’s public entrance.

While most of the grown-ups seemed stunned and confused, Maze had seemed to understand what was going on. After all, this was Lucifer’s club, and Maze was Lucifer’s friend. She would know what to do—and what Trixie could do, as well.

Following the dim glow of scarlet “EXIT” signs, the little girl moved slowly. She had tried using the LED light on her phone as a flashlight, but the screen had a spidery crack running across it now and refused to turn on. As her eyes adjusted, she could see dust floating in the still air and scraps of fuzzy insulation wafting down like feathers. She needed to watch her feet carefully to dodge fallen decor—splintered picture frames and broken mirrors, out-of-place furniture, and at one point, a balefully smoking set of cables dangling from the ruptured ceiling above. She stumbled once, grabbing the wall when an aftershock rumbled through the building, vibrating everything and making her knees feel like she was walking on a trampoline.

After a few minutes, Maze’s brusque voice sounded just around the corner, angry and cutting. “Did your bastard brother send you? I’m getting tired of his games.”

Trixie started forward eagerly, but found the hall juncture blocked by an overturned counter, the massive black marble and wood structure broken and half-buried beneath some collapsed ceiling panels. She opened her mouth to call out to her friend when another voice spoke, unfamiliar, high-pitched. It sent goose-pimples racing along her arms in sudden, irrational, instinctive fear.  Holding her breath, Trixie huddled behind the busted counter and stared, wide-eyed, into the shadows beyond.

The weird, high voice quavered as if on the point of laughing, but it lacked the warmth of mirth. It was, Trixie decided, a Disney villain’s voice—nasty and smiling and melodramatic all at once. “Which brother, little demon?” it asked without real interest. “We are legion.”

“Amenadiel,” Maze snapped in response.  “You can tell him if he shows his feathery ass here again, I’ll cut his—”

A third voice interrupted, disdainful. “Heaven’s lackey? That fool is no brother to the Grigori.” Another man, Trixie guessed, shivering again; this one sounded like he had a very sore throat, breathy and splintery. Less Disney villain and more monster, a voice from those late-night horror movies her mother wouldn’t let her watch, but that the Internet and the occasional babysitter provided readily. A haunted voice. The breath beneath your bed.

“Peace, hellspawn,” said the first, still giggling without humor.

Maze spat like a furious cat, half-hiss, half-snarl. Peeking around the cracked counter edge, Trixie blinked and tried to get her eyes to see the speakers as more than a trio of hazy shadows. She thought Maze’s back was to her perhaps 20 feet ahead, a slender form in a slight crouch, shifting in place as if positioning herself to spring.

“Hold, Mazikeen!” That horrible razor-edged whisper again. “We did not come here to fight.”

“Then you should not have come at all,” Maze said harshly. “I want to finish what we started today.”

“Blood for blood, General.” Beyond Maze, Trixie could now make out an enormously tall and impossibly thin man outlined in the faint red exit light. He stooped, clutching one arm to his chest as if it pained him, stringy hair falling over his shoulders like a hood. “Blood for blood, and over and done. Can that not be the way? Come, little demon. The Grigori and the Lilim need not be enemies.”

“But it’s so much more fun when we are.” 

Trixie could hear the cold, vindictive smile in Maze’s voice, even if she didn’t understand many of the words spoken between her and the men. Who were Gregory and Lily? Why were they enemies? She understood “demon” well enough and thought it was a very rude way to address someone. Maze didn’t seem to mind the name-calling, however. In fact, she almost seemed to like it.

“Come, come, come,” the first man chittered, moving in the darkness, and Trixie felt the hair on the back of her arms and neck prickling again. Ancient human instincts, warnings without rationality. The monster was, in fact, curling itself in your closet. The bedroom door was creaking open in the night, pushed by unseen claws. Without understanding, she still knew beyond doubt that something horrible lurked just beyond the safety of this fallen furniture, hunched in the shadows, giggling and whispering and sounding almost human.

Swallowing hard, she tightened her small fingers on the edge of cracked marble in front of her. Mommy and Daddy were both cops, afraid of nothing and no one. Her new friend, Maze, stood just ahead of her, unafraid. Trixie wriggled with one more violent shudder of fear, then held her ground like the people she loved and admired, listening intently, straining to see, setting her jaw in determination to help however she could.

“You miss home. You must.” The giggling man again. He was much smaller than his companion, not even as tall as Maze, and wore some kind of party hat that he touched and plucked at nervously. “What keeps you here, daughter of Lilith?”

“My duty to Lucifer. As you already know.”

The tall man made a disgusted noise, half-cough, half-breath. “What do demons know of duty? You were once Hell’s chief enforcer, its favorite and most creative torturer. You led your people to rise above the rest of the hell-spawned hordes. What call is there for such talents here?”

Maze’s reply was mocking. “Then perhaps I should avail myself of the few opportunities that do appear. Tell me, Batraal, will it be harder to cross the threshold without your head than without your hand? Shall we find out?”  With a practiced motion, the two daggers flicked into her hands, rotated once, and tucked back along her slender wrists like sheathed claws.

“You cannot have chosen this life.” The thin man seemed unintimidated, leaning forward far out of plumb with his footing. Trixie waited for him to tip over, but he didn’t. “You could help us.”

Maze eyed him coldly. “And you are fools.”

“If our lord has lost his way, surely this is the job of one so loyal ?” The voice seethed with sarcasm.

Readying herself, Mazikeen shifted her weight down. “How is it that you, of all creatures, fail to understand him? The more Heaven wants him back in place, the more he resists. He will have free will.”

The tall man spat on the floor, his spittle burning in the air as though lit with a match. Trixie gasped in surprise, but none of the three seemed to hear. “What have we to do with what Heaven wants? Hell itself reaches out for him, demon. Stand aside for your betters.”

The daggers flashed, curving out from her fists in answer.

 


 

“Perhaps we can help?” Sam offered again, trailing them down the alley.

Lucifer ignored him, striding downhill, eyes searching the side of the building until he found what he was looking for—the black metal grid of the old building’s fire escape. Stretching upward, he seized the lowest rung and pulled the retractable ladder down with a wail of unused metallic joints before turning back to look seriously at Chloe. “You shouldn’t go in, but I cannot leave you here.”

She pulled her hair back in a rough-tied knot, trying not to think of how incredibly creepy it was to even consider staying behind in the alley alone with Sam. “My child is in there, Lucifer. Let’s go.” When all this was over, she intended to ask him why he didn’t feel she could stay behind. Was he, too, more unnerved by the other man than he acted?  She also made a mental note to fuss at him for even imagining she would stay behind for any reason. Who was the cop here, after all? “Well?” she added, when he continued to stare down at her, frowning slightly. “Need me to take point?”

At her demanding tone, his expression relaxed into a faint smile. “As you wish. Won’t you step into my parlor, Detective?” He gestured up the side of the building with a small flourish.

“‘Abandon all hope, ye who enter here,’ you mean?” she matched him, smiling grimly, one foot already on the rickety ladder.

Lucifer’s eyebrows lifted in surprise at the allusion, and he inclined his head in a tiny bow. “Indeed. Coming around to my way of thinking, after all, are we?” He sobered suddenly, eyes traveling over her shoulder to where the stranger waited in silence. “Go ahead, Detective. Seek your Beatrice, among others. I’m right behind you.” 

Chloe shivered and began to climb, hauling herself upwards, trying to ignore the old fire escape’s tendency to warp and creak beneath her weight. Trying to ignore the icy tendrils in her chest that his words created. Trixie.

Before Lucifer could follow, Sam called out to him. “Morningstar! If you will not accept my assistance, answer me one thing before you go. Please.”

Gritting his teeth, Lucifer stepped down and turned.

Chloe stopped on the first landing, leaning on the the ladder so it stayed within Lucifer’s easy reach. She stared down at the two men’s heads—one dark and flecked with debris, one bright and sleek. Their voices rose to her through the more distant sounds of emergency vehicles and traffic, sirens, the muffled rush of water, and the general rumble of LA in the evening.

“Your—ah . . . Is it true, then?” Samyaza seemed to struggle, as if his question made him nervous, as if it was somehow scandalous or too personal to be spoken aloud. After his glib and easy manner earlier, the radical shift in character made Chloe suspect again that it was all a performance. But, if so, it was a good one. His voice dropped to a rough whisper that she strained to hear. “I mean, that your—that they’re gone?” He slid one hand over his own shoulder, reaching toward his back. “Completely gone?”

Lucifer chuckled darkly. “My wings, you mean? Oh, yes. Quite gone.”

Samyaza turned his face aside quickly, pressing his knuckles to his lips as if he might be sick.

Chloe frowned. Wings, again? What was it with wings and Lucifer? As she watched the stranger apparently struggle to master his revulsion, she remembered her own response to the horrific scars she’d seen on Lucifer’s back. That’s where I cut my wings off. When she’d almost touched one, he had seized her wrist in hard, defensive fingers and then fled, his eternal confidence shattering like glass. She thought of his indignant fury over the beautiful white cosplay wings on the auction stage last week. Not his wings, he’d said. Not the wings that mattered. His wistful, bruised face wreathed in cigarette smoke at the piano afterward.

She shook her head to clear away the past and focused on here and now. This unsteady fire escape. Lucifer’s stiff hostility. This somehow dangerous stranger. Her Beatrice--Trixie, trapped inside.

“Disturbs you, does it?” Lucifer pressed with evident relish. “They burned. Like dry tinder, or petrol, or very fine tobacco.” The rhythms of his speech elongated, somehow more ritualized, more poetic, more biting with sarcasm. “You just missed them, Sam. Just days ago they became cinder and ash and scorch marks on the beach for Mazikeen to sweep away.”

Samyaza stared past Lucifer, his face a mask of repugnance and pity. “But why? How could you allow someone to mutilate you, to cripple you in such a way?” His deep, rumbling voice sounded weak with disbelief.

Lucifer’s grin was nasty, all teeth and malice. “Nothing to allow. I invited it. Nay, I commanded it! Cut my ties quite literally, you see, and by my own will.”

“But then…” Still looking nauseous, Sam dragged his hand roughly over his face and beard, groping for words.  “But then, you cannot go home. You’ve no means.”

“Nor any interest, or haven’t I been clear enough yet? You lads really are slower than I remember.”

“But why? Why would you do such a thing?” He bent over, his hands on his knees in what Chloe thought must be over-reaction to . . . whatever the wings symbolized in their far-too-intricate code. (Clearly an effective masking device. After all, she had heard a great deal of it by now and still had no idea what they were discussing with such intensity.)

Lucifer stared at the other man narrowly, hardening in some indefinable way. “To send a very clear message.”

“Not to us?”

“Hardly. But you can take it as the evidence you seem to need. For the last time, I’m done. I’m finished. I’m out. The throne is vacant. The inmate has left the asylum. The wolf has escaped the trap by chewing off its paw. Hell—and you and your brothers—are no longer my responsibility. I quit.”

With that, Lucifer swung up onto the ladder, climbing with ease to join Chloe and gesturing her onward. He paused on the second landing and called down to the black and red figure below. “You’re far too late for another coup, Sam. Sorry to spoil your fun.” Lucifer stood for a moment staring down, his fingers gripping the rail, his face cold. From above him, Chloe heard metal buckle, creaking as if under great pressure. No doubt another small aftershock from the quake or the weakening of the fire escape fastenings--even if the sound seemed to come from beneath her partner’s hands.

“Lucifer,” she hissed. “We need to get off this thing and inside.”

He didn’t move immediately, but leaned out over the alley to meet the other man’s upturned eyes. “And if I find the Grigori have anything to do with this,” he said with a casual flare of one hand toward the sirens, “you will be grateful that I refuse to go home. You will need the depths to evade me.”

“Lucifer, now,” Chloe insisted, prying at the fourth floor window before using her boot heel to break a corner of the glass and begin kicking shards gingerly out of the frame.

Concentrating on her task, she only dimly heard Lucifer’s voice drop, rolling with latent threat like summer thunder. “Mark me, Samyaza. And tell the others. If this destruction is your doing, entire chronicles will be written and dirges sung about that which I shall visit upon you all.”

The fire escape lurched when he finally climbed up behind her—heralded by a frisson of something that sent another hard shiver up her spine, a sixth sense warning of onrushing danger. But when she looked quickly over her shoulder, there was only Lucifer, squeezing his tall frame onto the platform.

He arched one eyebrow at her wide-eyed stare and gestured impatiently at the window. “After you, Detective? You’re quite well-versed in this illegal entry thing, aren’t you? Do they teach that in the police academy or is there something you’re not telling me?”

Giving herself a shake to disperse the unaccountable nerves, Chloe slid past the remaining teeth of glass and into the building.

 


 

The small man was no longer snickering and had gone eerily still. “Look around you, Mazikeen,” he said. “Now that this den falls into dust, what is left to him?”

“So, this is your doing.” Maze stepped toward the two dark figures. “You dare?”

“Join us,” whispered the tall one. “Help us, Mazikeen. We want what you do, surely.”

“And what is that?”

“To see our lord back enthroned in Dis, of course. We can restore you to the halls of torture. We can see you both across the threshold with ease. You need not rely on him for passage.”

“You threaten the Lord of Hell? Lay waste to his home? And expect me to join you?” A sneer twisted her voice. “You expect to survive this at all? Angels are such idiots.”

Something moved behind the two men, pitch black in the red-tinged haze. Shadows coalesced and stretched along the walls and ceiling like clawed fingers, arching upward in the shape of broken, nearly denuded wings. Massive, feather-less appendages, grotesque even in vague outline, they spanned the walls and reached toward Mazikeen.

The little man giggled again, the sound soft and out of place. “We tried, demon. Remember that at the end.” His fingers scrabbled at his vest, as if drawing something from a pocket. “If this den be dust—and so it is now—what is left to him but you, his loyal servant, his right hand, his General and protector?”

The other man wheezed what might have been a grim laugh of his own. “And if his right hand be crippled and useless, what is left to him at all?”

Trixie felt a swooping sensation in her stomach unrelated to the earthquake, a flash of terrified recognition as she watched her new friend moving into the reach of those horrible, spider-like shadows. Reacting out of instincts she couldn’t possibly understand, seeing the monsters lying in wait, she cried out, “Maze! Look out!”

Searing black smoke erupted in front of the child, and she stumbled back with a cry, blinded and coughing. Ahead, she heard Maze’s fierce scream, the dull thud of something heavy striking flesh, and the hiss of blades slicing the air. The world around her trembled again as Things raged and churned and howled in the hot smoke-choked hallway. Trixie cowered against the wall, confused, terrified, her cheeks and hands pink and stinging from the sudden heat. She rubbed tears from her eyes and tried to be brave, but her legs seemed paralyzed, unable to move forward or to run. She glimpsed Maze when the woman crashed into the wall beside her, blood streaming down her face, her teeth red and bared in a malevolent snarl. The skeletal man surged out of the dark above the child as he reached for the woman, feral eyes glowing solid white, thin lips pulled back over impossibly sharp teeth. A single claw-like hand engulfed Maze’s face, fingers slipping in the blood.

“Yes,” he—it—creaked, voice entirely inhuman now. It echoed with tortured whispers, multiplying, painful. “Let us finish what we started this morning, demon.”

As Trixie tried to clap her hands over her ears, Mazikeen heaved upward, daggers flashing. One slammed into the side of the monster’s head with a wet crunch and flames spurted into the air around the blade, racing down Maze’s hand and arm, spilling like liquid toward where the child huddled below them.

Gasping in a lungful of smoke, Trixie somehow found the breath to scream.

 


 

Ducking into the shattered window, Lucifer suddenly froze, his eyes darting up to meet Chloe’s across the room where she had already been navigating a path through the dark office suite’s scattered furnishings. 

“What?” she asked with concern.

“Move, Detective,” he said. Shoving furniture from his path with unnatural ease, he hit the door to the hall in a few long strides, splintering the heavy wooden panels and jarring it loose from its frame. As the door collapsed into the hall,  he leapt over it, already breaking into a run. Chloe raced after him, her face set against rising terror, her eyes like stone.

 



Mazikeen locked her teeth in the shoulder of one of the Fallen, her remaining dagger buried to its hilt in his side. Blood obscured her vision, and her face flared with agony, but she held on, tenacious and savage. The human child’s scream had softened to whimpers, sounds the demon normally found exciting, but something in these particular sniffles stung very much like her wounds. Cold, deliberate strategy seemed beyond her, so Maze bit and clawed and clung and exulted in every flaming gout of black ichor that sprayed the air. The two Fallen—unearthly and banished—seemed incapable of painting this world with their viscera, blood burning away before it touched either the floor or the child. But Mazikeen could feel it ablaze on her own skin and in her mouth, blistering and corrosive.

And then, without warning, Azazyel ripped free of her hold with a wild cry and launched himself ceilingward on broken leathery wings. His brother followed with a bitter snarl, slamming through the cracked concrete and vanishing, showering the hallway with more rubble.

Eyes shut against the pain, Maze lay gasping on the floor, furious, confused, spitting out remnants of fallen angel. What had just happened? The Fallen had been winning. No demon was a match for the Host, even those marked and bound with the chains of Yahweh’s Word. Despite her bluster and her lust to fight, she could hardly expect to best two Grigori working in tandem when they chose the ground and knew that she was coming. So, what had stopped them from killing her? Why would they flee?

She jumped, hissing, when small, cool fingers touched her cheek.

When no blow followed, she realized the tiny touch must have been the detectives’ spawn—the goblin-child who had apparently followed her into combat. Who had shouted the warning that allowed Mazikeen to fling herself aside, dodging the worst of their powerful opening blow. As it was, she felt as if her skull might be cracked; but without that cry, she might have lost half of her head, the battle ended decisively before it had begun.

Forcing herself into stillness, the demon crouched on her belly, eyes still closed, and waited. And after a brief hesitation, soft fingers slid gently over her face again, the touch surprisingly pleasant against her heated skin.

“Oh, Maze,” said a sorrowful little voice. “You got hurt.”

Mazikeen blinked blood out of her eyes and pushed slowly upright, staring down in amazement at the fragile thing that knelt beside her. The child stared back, eyes huge and worried, nearly black in the dim light. A small cut at her hairline seemed to be her only scrape, but her face was smudged with concrete dust and freckled with what was probably Maze’s own blood. How had the tiny beast managed to escape unscathed? Probably because the Grigori never saw human souls as much more than cattle, grist for the engines of Hell. And children, she noted wryly, were doubly a mystery to all of the underworld’s denizens. She snorted, then froze at the sudden bolt of pain that triggered.

Damn angels and their damned wings.

Almost a mirror of the demon’s own thoughts, Trixie’s eyes hardened and her mouth thinned with—anger? Righteous fury? Mazikeen wondered if she could see Wrath kindling behind the child-sized breastbone, but, if so, it was tethered by something soft and damp and strange.

Compassion?

The demon twitched, unsure if sure she’d recognize the unfamiliar human emotion if she saw it, especially if it was directed at her. Human larvae were so disconcerting.

Mazikeen dragged one hand across the sticky mess of her face, which, predictably, exploded with pain again. After a second of teeth grinding and shallow breathing, she found she could almost begin to savor it. Well-earned, this pain. She licked her lips, the salty sulfur of her own blood mixing with the sour acid of Azazyel’s. Smiling hurt even more, but she did it anyway. It had been a good fight.

“Don’t touch your face like that, okay?” Trixie told her, trying unsuccessfully to push the demon’s hand away. “Your nose isn’t really where it’s supposed to be and—” Her eyes flicked to the side, uncomfortable, then seemed to come back by will alone. “—and your eye is a funny color. I mean, half your face is really messed up, okay?”

Maze stiffened.

Trixie continued, a little apologetic. “And it kinda smells like the hamburger Grandma left in the car last summer by accident. You’re gonna need a bunch of bandaids. Like the whole box.”

Mazikeen of the Lilim tilted her head, letting her fingers rove down across the bare skull of her demonic visage—stretched and dried tissue over exposed bone, putrid and beautiful, a half-face that she adored but rarely revealed. It was her private face, hers alone and Lucifer’s for he found it as lovely as she did, primal and honest and strong. Human souls in Hell flinched and screamed when she allowed them a glimpse, when she dropped her favorite mask or the humanesque half-glamour she opted for on this plane. It was a glorious asset as a torturer, her personal face, and one she had never intended to share with a living human. Much less a human child.

Her fingers traced over some new pitting in the bone and a few smooth patches of freshly melted flesh. The blood of the Fallen, she thought. Apparently it disrupted glamour magic as much as demonic tissue.

The little human stared at her with concern as she explored her injuries. Maze drew her fingertips lovingly over the bared teeth on the left side of her face, along the open eye socket and blank white eye, and watched the girl, curious. “You’re not scared?” she asked.

“Nuh-uh,” came the quick response, punctuated by an emphatic shake of pony tails. “Not now.” Despite the bravado, Trixie’s eyes kept sliding away, timid, but they always returned. “I’m sorry you got hurt. I think they were monsters,” she added in a whisper.

Mazikeen’s fingers followed a crack  from a brutal blow from above her left eye, across a shattered nose, and down onto the flayed skin of her other cheek in a rough diagonal. She was hurt, yes. She was also very beautiful, sculpted by battle. “I am more monster than they will ever be,” she said proudly.

“Well,” Trixie began, biting her bottom lip. “They called you bad names. They said you were a demon.”

“I am a demon,” Maze told her, lifting her chin. “I protect Lucifer from those who would harm him.”

Trixie seemed to consider that for a moment. “Monsters don’t protect people. Police ossifers protect people,” she said, knowingly, her lisp blurring the words.

Mazikeen shrugged off the suggestion that Hell's premiere torturer could be or could want to be anything other than a monster.

“Well, my Mommy is a police ossifer.” The goblin-child brightened, her face breaking into a shaky grin. “She’ll get those men, and she’ll punish them for hurting you. She’ll make sure they don’t hurt anyone else.”

“Even if they’re monsters?” The demon found herself reflecting the child’s tentative grin. Wrath and retribution and righteous defense. What an intriguing marriage in such a tiny being. Human children--or at least this human child--were so much more complex and interesting than she’d imagined from their complete absence in Hell.

“Especially if they’re monsters,” Trixie said, certain.

Maze heard footsteps on the floor above and her preternatural senses signaled Lucifer’s approach, rapid and worried and—she suspected—followed by the goblin’s human incubator. Of course Decker would be with her boss. “Well, punishment I understand. I guess your mother and I have one thing in common, after all. Not sure I like that,” she grumbled, pulling her human face back to the surface with an effort, once again masking her true visage.

Trixie “oooooh!”ed, surprised and impressed, and Mazikeen rolled her shoulders a moment to settle the rather disquieting warmth behind her own sternum at the child’s evident delight.

 


 

Over the next few hours, Mazikeen found herself subjected to a mess of disgusting and overwrought human emotion (the detective), indignation and ranting anger (Lucifer), boredom (the Lux staff checking in) and annoyance and ineptitude (local emergency officials swarming all over the place like sewer rats). The demon spent much of that time stretched out along the main bar beneath the glare of temporary construction lights, eyeing her own blood dripping into the scotch her boss had shoved into her hand. She watched with amusement as Trixie tried to convince her mother that they had fought “real monsters” as part of her garbled account of the evening.

“And Maze is a demon!” Trixie sang, bouncing on her toes excitedly at the detective’s heels. “Her face is kind of like hamburger. But you can’t see it now. And she likes chocolate and Lucifer, just like me.”  A comment which only made the other woman come over to talk to Mazikeen about her injuries. Again.

Seeing the detective approaching, Maze fell back on the counter with an irritated sigh and glared balefully up at the damaged ceiling.

“I’ve got some field first aid,” Decker explained to her for the third time. “And there’s some burn cream and gauze in the kit over there. But you really don’t want someone who isn’t a professional to set your nose.” The woman’s concern was unwanted and unnatural. “It should have stopped bleeding by now, at least.” 

Rolling up on one elbow, Maze glanced at herself in a shard of mirror, appraising. Her smooth brown skin had been ripped in a jagged line across her face, and blood had dried in a sheet below the gash, the diagonal pattern reminiscent of war paint. Her nose was swollen, visibly crooked, and beginning to blacken; a sluggish trickle dripped persistently from one nostril. She rather liked the whole effect, especially its impact on onlookers who kept wincing and looking away.

“I can grab one of the EMTs upstairs, if you want,” the was detective prattling on with dull determination.

“Why?”  Mazikeen peered in the mirror fragment again and shoved an edge of the ragged wound closed with her fingers.

“Because it's going to get infected and scar horribly.”

Maze licked her lips, tasting the metallic savor of the drying blood again. Scars on this too-pretty, too human face? Fine. Sounded like an improvement.

“And that nose won't straighten itself. You'll look like you lost a bar fight forever.”

Looking like she lost a fight? Less fine. Maze sat up, swinging her long legs over the edge of the bar.  “You said you know first aid. Then, you do it.”

Decker shook her head. “Not on your life. I’ll drive you to a hospital or grab someone upstairs. And—ugh—stop pushing at it.”

Mazikeen curled her lip in contempt. She felt Lucifer approaching again from behind the bar; he’d somehow found another unbroken glass and something very top shelf, probably from the well-packed crates in the storage cellar. She leaned toward him, twisting into his appraisal, and smiled at the repressed fury she read in his eyes. He stroked her gently under her chin and clucked his tongue. “Well, well. Azazyel, I expect? He never did know how to keep his wings to himself. The whiny little cretin is more powerful than he looks.”

The demon shrugged carelessly. “They want you back in Hell. They asked if I would help.”

“And this was the best invitation they could come up with? What will it be next? A plague of slugs?” He grimaced. “Father must have been in his cups when He came up with that lot. No wonder He kicked them out of the Silver City. I always thought he sent them down to Hell just to be a thorn in my side, but I expect he was tired of dealing with them.” Lucifer sipped at his whisky, holding it on his tongue for a moment, considering. “Why attack Lux? You, I can understand after this morning. But surely all this wasn’t simply to get at you? As stupid as they may be, it's ludicrous to think this will garner my goodwill.”

Mazikeen thought back to their words and looked at the devastation around her. “They plan to drive you home. Take away your playthings and see you have nowhere else to go. No one to protect you.”

The detective had been listening intently, frowning. “So, wait,” she finally interrupted. “You think this is actually an act of terrorism? A deliberate assault on your home, your work, and—” She stared at Mazikeen for a second before finishing, “—your ninja bartender?”

Lucifer smiled thinly. “I suspect so, Detective. But you’ll never prove it, so there’s little point in putting that in your official report.”

The Decker woman grasped his forearm before he could lift his drink again, glaring up at him. “You—whoever you are or were—”

“I’ve told you, Detective. It’s not my fault that you won’t hear it.”

“—and you are not the freaking devil, for crying out loud!” She sounded exasperated, the stresses of the evening beginning to show.

Lucifer shrugged and switched his tumbler to his other hand to drink. “No worries, Detective.” His smile grew brittle, his expression emptying abruptly. “I Imagine this problem will resolve itself shortly.”

Decker’s pale eyes narrowed. “You are also not going to take matters of suspected terrorism into your own hands,” she snapped. “Police consultants are not vigilantes, Lucifer.  We—the LAPD—will handle it. Hell, if we can keep the Feds from taking over, anyway. If Mazikeen would just make a statement about what happened, I’m sure we can—”

Maze snorted and hopped off the counter. “No statements. No cops. Definitely not you ,” she added with a scornful glance.

Before the cop could argue further, her child reappeared out of the crowd of inspectors and emergency workers that milled around the nightclub, tugging at her mother’s jacket sleeve insistently. “Mommy. Mommy!”

The woman looked down, her annoyed face clearing. “What is it, monkey?”

“The man over there said nobody’s supposed to be in the building. He told all those people to leave.”

“I know, sweetheart,” Decker said. “We’re going home soon. I just need to talk to Lucifer and Mazikeen for another minute, okay?”

Trixie pulled on her sleeve even more excitedly. “But Lucifer lives here!” She pointed at the ceiling above them. “He can’t go home!” She turned shining eyes on the Devil and beamed. “So, he can come home with us tonight instead! We can have a sleepover! Okay, Lucifer?”

Lucifer’s lips parted in surprise, and the demon looked at the goblin-child with ever increasing interest. If her own facial injuries had made Detective Decker uncomfortable, the child’s offer had an even more dramatic impact. The woman’s eyes widened, and her mouth worked for a moment. “I’m sure Lucifer would rather stay in a hotel, monkey—” she began.

With a toothy smile, Lucifer interrupted smoothly. “Actually, Detective, I’d be delighted to share a bed at your place.” His eyes glittered, amused.

“And Maze can have the hide-a-bed in the sofa!” the child decreed, wriggling with anticipation. “And we can all have some chocolate cake and popcorn and watch television and—”

The detective dropped her head into one hand and sighed.  “Fine, fine. But there will be no tv or junk food tonight. It’s late.  And no sharing of beds,” she added, as if she could see the gleeful look Lucifer was giving her. “Lucifer can have the guest room--if he even wants it.”

“There are many things I want , Detective,” he began, voice dropping to that smug purr. “Feel free to do with me as you desire.”

Decker ground her teeth for a moment. "You should probably speak to your therapist about this reoccurring mental lapse that makes you believe that I won't shoot you again.”

“Oooh, a good idea, Detective! Dr. Linda might indeed have some useful advice; I haven’t asked her how she’d feel about a ménage a—”

“Guest room, Lucifer. Solo. And as for Mazikeen—”

“I have things to do tonight,” the demon said, sensing that Lucifer might prefer her on the streets this evening, following their attackers’ trail while it was fresh. She was fairly sure her broken nose and cracked skull would feel better with a bit more hunting.

At her words, however, Trixie’s face fell. 

Mazikeen scratched at a sudden squirmy, hollow feeling just at the center of her corset. “But,” she hedged after a few seconds of staring at the child’s disappointed face, “I’ll check in tomorrow.” After all, the goblin had laid the foundation for exceptional devilment by inviting Lucifer over tonight; Maze did wonder how it would play out.

“Promise?” Trixie pushed, earnest and round-eyed.

Both her boss and his pet detective were staring back and forth between her and the goblin-child in some bewilderment. Mazikeen scratched again and shifted her shoulders uncomfortably before giving the child a curt nod. WIthout looking at Lucifer, she stalked quickly away to find an EMT who could make her look like she hadn't just lost a fight. It wasn’t a promise to a child, anyway, whatever Lucifer and the Decker woman might imagine. It was an oath to a soldier-in-arms.

Or something like that.

Humans made everything weird.

 


 

It was well after midnight when they were able to finally leave Lux. The fire marshal confirmed that the entire building was still insecure, even though the bulk of the damage seemed concentrated on the nightclub and the lower garage. No one would be allowed back inside for at least the next day, possibly several, and repairs would take weeks, at best. He tried to refuse Lucifer access to the stairs on grounds of possible hidden damage, but the club owner breezed past with a supercilious gesture. Mazikeen followed, cutting her eyes at the rotund little man and savoring his abrupt need to be elsewhere.

The detective called after them. “Are you sure you want to climb all those stairs? You could just pick up whatever you need at one of the 24-hour big box stores.”

Lucifer shuddered at the very idea of Walmart, then smiled slyly. “I don’t actually need anything to sleep in, if you must know. Just want a look at the penthouse before we go.”

The woman glared at him. “If you don’t at least show up with pajamas, you’re sleeping in your little matchbox car.”

“Why, Detective,” he teased, “given your previous film career, I wouldn’t have taken you for a prude.”

She pointed to the soft, snoring bundle of Trixie curled up in one of the big booths. “Not a prude, just a mom. Sleepwear, Lucifer. And a toothbrush.”  She grinned. “And however much product you need to feel like yourself in the morning.” 

“What’s wrong with good grooming? I’d think you’d rather have a partner who doesn’t smell of donuts and stale coffee or look like an overgrown topiary in all the wrong places.”

Scooping the spawn up into her arms without disturbing the quiet rhythm of her breathing, Decker turned toward the exit. “I realize you can let yourself in when you arrive, but if you’ll just knock, I’ll save you the trouble. Enjoy your 15 flights of exercise.”

Several minutes later, Mazikeen stood with him in the penthouse, surveying the wreck of whisky and manuscripts in the darkness. At least the outside windows and stained glass seemed intact, the light fixtures still mostly in place, if without power.

“The Detective’s spawn seems very taken by you, Maze. Want to tell me about it?” Lucifer asked from the doorway to his bedroom.

She dropped her hands on her hips, impatient. “She reminds me of some of the fallen cherubim back home. That’s all.”

Lucifer stared at her. “Does she now?” He sounded dubious.

“Yes,” the demon said, a little more snappishly than she intended. “But she seems more wiley. And fierce for her size. I’m . . . “ She wasn’t sure what she was, so she found the closest phrase she could. “ . . . intrigued.”

“Since when is Hell’s enforcer intrigued by a human child?”

“Since when does Devil play police detective?” she fired back grouchily. “What in our existence is normal anymore?” She followed him into the bedroom, standing in a square of moonlight at the foot of the bed, and changed the subject. “What will you do about the Fallen, Lucifer? What would you have me do?”

He leaned close to her ear as he passed by her, his warm breath on her skin like a memory of the heat of home. “I will send my right hand to run them to ground, of course,” he murmured, eyes warming to scarlet in the dark. “Hunt them, Mazikeen.” He lifted a cautionary finger. “But reconnaissance only, mind. If they still remain on this plane, I would know it.”

She thrilled with anticipation. “As you wish.”

Chapter Text

Chloe sat cross-legged in the center of her bed, the comforter rucked up around her knees and littered with case folders, loose reports, pages of hastily scratched notes, an unwrapped and forgotten protein bar, and a precariously perched coffee mug. Lit by the pale glow of her Surface tablet and the single reading lamp beside the bed, she sighed irritably and tossed yet another file aside. The thinly curtained window had faded to a cool dark grey with the beginnings of morning, but the corners of the small bedroom still held onto their late night shadows. If she listened hard, she could catch a whisper of what might have been the waves on the beach—or the first rumbles of the morning traffic rush. It must be nearing five by now, she guessed, not bothering to check.

Between the coffee, the quake, and the niggling sense that she was missing something important about these cases, sleep had so far eluded her. She also didn’t fool herself; it was easier to worry about the cases than to stew over the possible horrors the quake could have brought to her and her daughter’s lives. (It didn’t , she found herself thinking repeatedly. Trixie is fine. She’s asleep right now in her bed. )

A couple hours ago, Chloe had given up on tossing and turning and crawled out of the tangled sheets to call the night desk at the station. A muzzy-voiced clerk shared the stack of confirmations from other detectives—over half of the stale missing persons cases that the team had checked that afternoon had revealed a bizarre forgetfulness on the part of the victim’s loved ones and colleagues. Her hysterical DJ joined a small but growing pile of thirteen others who acted as though they’d been drugged, responding to police solicitations first with confusion, then surprise, and finally with horror that they had moved on with their lives without their friend, mother, boss, lover, and more.

Chloe dropped her head into one hand, loose hair falling into her face. What the hell was going on? It was as if these vanished people had literally been erased from their lives and social networks with deft efficiency. Even more strange, nothing connected any of the victims or the survivors except this phenomenon. Could Lucifer’s fanciful conjecture have been right in some strange way? Were all these families and friends covering for the disappearances—even for potential deaths—by acting as if they had simply forgotten? Without something linking them all together, it seemed impossible to credit such synchronized artifice, but what else explained the pattern? It couldn’t just be happenstance.

Digging around in the comforter, she found her cell phone and punched in the number for Forensics. The tech on the other end of the line sounded under-caffeinated and cranky. (Chloe sympathized. She probably didn’t sound much better.) “No, that's really specific action,” the voice repeated over the speaker. “No street drug I know of can target individual memories for repression. No medical grade drug, either, although things like Versed can compress time pretty seriously and have a strong amnesiac effect for most patients, but that’s only for the time it’s in the bloodstream. And it affects everything that happens, not just a single element of the memory.”

“Something else, then? A chemical or process we don’t know about? Is that too far of a stretch?”

“You said they could remember again when triggered, yeah? A photo or a specific detail about mode of dress or mannerisms?”

“That seems to be what we’re seeing, as far as we can tell.” 

A loud sigh on the other end of the line. “Look, Detective Decker, we’re going to have to do some research. I know there’s some experimental work being done in reconsolidation of traumatic memories using drug therapies, and there’s always hypnosis. But this seems extreme as a memory loss effect. I can send a team to try to get blood samples and psych evals on some of these people if you’ll give me a list of names and addresses, but it’ll have to be in the morning, right?”

Just because she was keyed up and couldn’t sleep, it didn’t mean the rest of the world, or even the night shift at the station, would thank her for her making more work at this hour. “That’s fine. I’ll send a list by email after I touch base with the MPU folks. Just do whatever you can. Thanks. Good night.” 

After she clicked off, Chloe remembered Ms. Abigail Smythe with her frizzy purple hair and blank stare when asked about her missing brother. Was that another bizarre memory failure, not early dementia? She wasn’t sure that sending a drug-testing team to the head shop would be met with a very kindly response; perhaps she would just have to go back herself to see if she could resurrect memories of brother Smythe.

Oh god, Lucifer would just love to go back to the head shop. At least he had only walked out with a book last time.

And been attacked by a homeless man.

She brushed fingers over the tablet propped beside her knee, her mind veering off down an equally frustrating line of thought: her partner. The man she had tucked away in the guest room just a few hours ago with remarkably little fuss or flirtation or trouble of any kind. He had seemed intensely curious about the upstairs of the house, eyes roving around the cramped little room like he was back amidst Smythe’s collection of oddball memorabilia. He’d tossed his neat travel satchel onto the treadmill and clapped his hands. “Well, well, behind the scenes at the Decker home sweet home,” he’d said agreeably. “Would this have been your room as a child, Detective?” He had dropped onto the squeaky bed and bounced a little. “Hard to get up to much on this without the parents hearing, I’d imagine. First kiss, though, maybe? First trip around the bases when she wasn’t home?” If he looked a little disappointed when she’d just said goodnight and pulled the door closed behind her, she had been too focused on her own bed to care.

And then, sleep refused to come and here she was, scrolling again through the Wikipedia article she had open in a background tab.  It had taken her some searching to find the name Lucifer had used in the alleyway, trying different spellings until something popped up.

Grigori ,” she re-read in a low mutter. “ A name given to the phalanx of watcher angels sent to guard and aid humanity in the early centuries of creation, pre-Deluge, as detailed in the Books of Enoch and several other apocryphal texts of uncertain origin or authorship. Much interpretive confusion exists, but the name most commonly emerges around a group of angels who betrayed their charge and visited great evils upon humanity. Most, if not all, of the Grigori leadership were punished, expelled from the Host of Heaven to reside in the depths of Hell. One source states that they ‘along with their prince Satanail, rejected the Lord of Light and undertook unnatural congress with humanity. Their victims gave birth to nephilim who pillaged the earth until the Great Flood, and their workings and deeds so befouled the earth that God confined them underground in chains and darkness until the Judgment.’”

She stared at the black-and-white woodcuts of bat-winged, horned, satyr-like monstrosities above tiny, screaming humans and of the scrolls that supposedly held such stories in their ancient script. Further down the article, there they were—the names of the Grigori leaders, including the most cunning, “Samyaza.” Then came “Azazyel,” who supposedly taught humans the workings of weapons of mass destruction and terror, and then “Batraal, schooled in magics and shadows.” Turel and Tamiel, the twins, chained together in their punishment. Rameel, who had once stood guard over Eden itself and whose corruption infected even his holy blade. Sariel and Ezeqeel and Shamsiel and Jomjael and more. Some accounts suggested as many as 200 fallen and cursed angels, while others listed only a handful, many with outlandishly long, unpronounceable names and hints about unique powers.

Chloe shoved her fingers through her hair, mind racing.

An entire organization of monstrous supernatural creatures that may have originally been tasked by Heaven as protectors (or at least as observers) of natal humanity, but who fell prey to their own desires and machinations. Somehow worse than the most egregious sins of humanity because they were to have been caretakers and chroniclers, agents of the Creator. Even in the quietest places of the earth, the Grigori had wreaked some kind of horror and havoc, unstoppable except by Heaven’s direct intervention in the form of Noah’s Flood, a cleansing of the earth that destroyed nearly every living thing.

The first and, so far, last Apocalypse.

Whistling quietly between her teeth, Chloe considered. What a legend to build a crime syndicate upon! Dark and obscure, grounded in faith and righteousness, but ultimately all about power and domination. The corruption of others and of self. Fallen angels. Followers of “Satanail.” She assumed that referred to Lucifer, the first of the Fallen, the Prince of Air and Darkness himself. What did that mean for her own Lucifer’s role in the family business or whatever it was? Hadn’t the homeless man been gibbering about following Lucifer? Falling for Lucifer?

A tap at the bedroom door interrupted her musings. Speak of the devil, she thought, tiredly amused. Without waiting for her invitation, the door swung open on quiet hinges.  “Still awake, Detective?” Lucifer’s voice was soft, as if trying not to disturb the stillness of the house.

“Obviously,” she replied, pushing herself up straighter, feeling weariness pool in her limbs like physical weights. She glanced at the digital clock at the corner of the tablet. 5:29 a.m. Urgh.

“Can’t sleep?” Lucifer said from the doorway, his tone warming. “I know something that can help with that.”

She turned a flat, disapproving stare on him, and had to concentrate to maintain her disgruntled expression when she saw him.  Her displaced partner leaned against the doorframe as though he belonged there in the middle of the night, arms and ankles crossed loosely, eyes gleaming down at her with just a hint of that practiced leer. His hair showed that he’d been in bed himself, mussed and falling in soft curls over his forehead, almost invisible against the darkness of the hallway behind him. She’d demanded pajamas, so his lower half was clad in loose-fitting black sleep pants that rode low on the bones of his hips—and apparently that was all. His bare torso shone in the light from her bedside lamp, and Chloe’s eyes betrayed her by tracing the smooth lines of his shoulders and chest, followed the outline of abdominal muscles and the thin trail of dark hair that vanished behind the drawstring of his pants. She moistened her lips as she tried to think of a snappy retort and heard him chuckle quietly.

“Like what you see, Detective?” His voice deepened, playful. Hadn’t he asked her the same thing a few nights ago at Lux? How had she responded then?

She could hear him grinning even before she returned her gaze to his face. “I’d like you to put on a shirt,” she grumbled, turning back to her files. “What part of ‘bring pajamas’ wasn’t clear to you?”

“These are pajamas,” he complained, plucking at the silken waist. “What? Worried you can’t trust yourself alone with such a handsome Devil?”

“You wish.”

“Oh, I do, indeed. No great mystery there, Detective.” Irritatingly unfazed, he unfolded himself from the door frame and meandered in, looking around with interest. He drew a finger over the frame of one of her mom’s many film posters, picked up a small grinning photograph of Trixie in her last Halloween costume (a devil, of all things—”unexpected good taste in a small human”), and finally glanced at the spines of a few cheesy romance novels stacked on the corner of the dresser. “You know, I’d understand completely if you couldn’t keep your hands to yourself. You wouldn’t be the first.”  Stopping at the foot of her bed, he stared down at her curiously, head cocked. “In fact, you’re really the first I’ve met with this unfortunate level of self-control. I’m not sure if it’s refreshing or horrifying.”  His brow furrowed, eyes narrowing.  “You do still have a fundamental attraction to the male form and function, I assume? Detective Douche hasn’t broken you somehow?”

Chloe gritted her teeth and looked at the nearest case folder intently. She was working. Not staring at her half-naked partner. Not discussing his pansexual magnetism or engaging with his direct and very honest flirtation. Not thinking about whether she found his form (and its possible functions) remotely intriguing.

Just working.

“Feel free to change your mind, though,” he continued when she didn’t speak. “Act on new impulses, Detective. I confess I was at least hoping for a glimpse of lingerie myself.” Stooping, he lifted her bra from where she’d dropped it on the floor behind the bed and gave it a quick glance as if to say serviceable, I suppose . “Not quite what I was imagining, though. Is there actual sexy lingerie in here somewhere? What do you favor? Lacy black? Ooo, red satin?” His eyes slid over her in excruciating detail, clearly taking in her threadbare t-shirt with its ragged neckline and the soft, well-worn exercise pants she found most comfortable.

“I prefer kevlar,” she finally ground out, feeling her face heat. Really, she should have known he’d barge in at some point. And it wasn’t any of his business what she slept in, or about her taste in clothing at all. Especially clothing meant less for sleeping than for—okay, not going there. Not with him standing over her bed, half-clothed, appealingly ruffled. Not ever, she told herself. “Now what exactly do you think you’re doing?”

He wandered around the room, inspecting the posters that filled most of the walls, stacked museum style, some of them signed by her mother or her mother’s co-stars. He poked around the tiny dusty captain’s desk wedged in the corner by the window, empty except for a few stray bills that refused to submit to online deposits, a large bottle of Advil, and a handful of bullets tossed into an open drawer instead of the gun safe in the corner.

Chloe watched him, frowning when the lamplight broke across his bare back, shattering into pebbled shadow across the scars. They were as massive and horrible as she remembered, gnarled and pitted like ancient burns, a violation of his otherwise immaculate skin. His father’s fault, somehow. And something about Mazikeen, he’d said.

As if he could feel her gaze on his shoulders, Lucifer turned. “This is your room?”

“Yes.”

“It doesn’t look much like you. Not as I’d expected, at least.” He nodded to her nightstand. “Badge, gun, holster, phone.” He pushed the bills on the desk into a neater pile. “Some basic requirements of a human economic life.” A gesture toward the paperback books. “Are those even yours?”

Chloe pulled her knees up and wrapped her arms around them. “My mother’s. What gave it away?”

“The strapping shirtless men and waif-like damsels in distress didn’t seem quite like your thing.” He waved a hand over his own shirtless body with a wry half-smile. “More's the pity. Although I don’t go for bulging muscles and porn-star hair much myself.”

“You’d hate me as a damsel, too.”

“Probably true. So much effort, all that bodice-ripping.” Having perused everything on easy display, he eyed the drawers of the dresser, but seemed to (correctly) decide there were limits on her hospitality. “How long did you say you and your progeny have lived here?”

“Nearly a year. Since just after Dan and I decided to separate.”

“The Douche got your house?”

“Apartment. We rented. Cop salaries, you know. And mom had this place standing mostly empty, so it made more sense for me and Trixie to move.”

He gathered up a handful of case files, shifting them to the desk. And before she could point him to the window sill or the rug, he curled his long form across from her on her bed, looking a peculiar mix of invading hedonist and best friend at a sleepover. How he could seem so sensual and so innocent simultaneously, she didn’t know. The dissonance, more than Lucifer’s presence in —on, on, on —her bed, seemed so quintessentially him that she let it go without comment.

It did cross her mind briefly that she wouldn’t allow Dan to do this now, or any other man she knew or probably had known. Why Lucifer? There was just something different, something safe about him--even though she knew somehow that “safe” was entirely the wrong word.

“A whole year, and yet this house is almost devoid of you,” he continued, getting comfortable. “Why is that, Detective?”

“We don’t all need walls of whisky or rare manuscripts or whatever else you keep in that museum of yours to be comfortable at home.”

“No, of course not,” he agreed. “But a fine collection of scotch and some ancient books do tell you something about my interests, yes? And if you ever deigned to look a bit closer—”

“I’d probably need a Silkwood shower and the best therapist money could afford,” she cut in with a smirk, then glanced at where he’d draped her bra over the desk after inspecting it. “Some things just aren’t for public display.”

His eyes sparkled. “Depends on your goal, Detective. But, seriously, I’d expect something more than your gun and a photo of your spawn in here. Even the child has artwork slathered all over the refrigerator downstairs and leaves stuffed toys and ninja chemist idols all about the place as though she’s marking her territory.  By the way, art is not apparently her strong suit. Do tell her to keep studying maths.”

“She’s eight, Lucifer.”

He ignored her. “But what about you, Detective? Where are you in this place?”

“This isn’t actually my place. You know that.”

“Yes, but after a year? The Vampire Queen didn’t forbid you from bringing your things, did she?”

“Of course not. I just didn’t have any need to make sweeping changes.” Chloe found herself looking around, seeing the room for the first time in months. It was still very much her mother’s room. But why shouldn’t it be? It was temporary, even if “temporary” had turned into most of a year now.

“What do you do when you’re not working?” Lucifer asked, staring at her seriously. “So far, I’ve really only seen you at work—except for a few lovely hours at Lux, but that was clearly an outlier. And there’s tonight, but—” He pushed a notepad toward her with his bare toes. “Again, more work. What do you do for fun? Hobbies? Friends?”

“I don’t really have time for hobbies.” She felt strangely defensive. “I work a lot. I have to after Palmetto, especially. And there’s Trixie.”

“Yes, and…” he prompted, frowning when she didn’t continue. “Detective, it’s obvious that you're devoted to your job and your get, but surely there’s a little bit of time and space for you in all of this? There’s more to life than arrests and Disney princess videos.”

“Like what, exactly? Whipped cream and thigh-high go-go boots?”

“If that’s your thing. Is it?”

Chloe shook her head and looked up at the exposed beam ceiling. “Since the separation, things have been busy. I’ll get there. Not to the whipped cream and boots,” she added hurriedly before his hint of a grin turned into something more ridiculous. She didn’t say aloud I’m spending a lot more of my free time with a man who imagines himself the devil than I expected. That’s where some of my time is going . “And I guess I don’t think of this room really as mine, any more than the kitchen or the den—where I actually slept most of the time right after Trix and I first moved in. Still do, sometimes.”

“On the sofa? Your mother wouldn’t let you use the bedrooms upstairs? I confess I’m beginning to wonder about your family, Detective. It sounds as coercive and inflexible as mine.”

“It’s a good pull-out,” she argued. “And it was my choice, not my mother’s. She couldn’t care less where I sleep; it actually helps her just to have the house occupied while she’s traveling. She’s not in the city that often.”

“So, you elected to sleep on the pull-out instead of this fairly comfortable bed because . . .?” He smirked, then shook his head.

“What?”

“Well, I don’t always make it to the bedroom, myself, especially if my guests are particularly eager or creative. But given the proximity of your child to that sofa, I suppose I shouldn’t even get my hopes up.”

He looked so put out that Chloe couldn’t help but laugh. “Do you know, telling me about your over-exuberant sexual exploits isn’t really the best way to ask me about my life.”

Lucifer gave a half-hearted shrug of apology. “Just drawing comparisons. Do feel free to share your own exploits, if you wish, Detective. Well, as long as they don’t involve Daniel the Douche, thanks. After all, you’re the one who brought up whipped cream and sexy shoes.”

She snorted and shoved back against the pillows, stretching her legs out among the paperwork and just ignoring the almost instinctive motion of his dark eyes. Leg man. Right. “I'm afraid you're doomed to disappointment. After the separation, Trixie had a few months of pretty bad anxiety dreams. Moving to grandma’s seemed to make them worse. I just wanted to be close to her in case she needed me to wake her up, and she really wanted the big room downstairs for all of her toys and things. So, the pull-out made the most sense, and it’s comfortable enough.”

Lucifer nodded. Chloe was surprised to see a hint of concern in his expression.

“She’s gotten a lot better these days,” she felt compelled to add. “Although after tonight’s events, I thought about sleeping downstairs, just in case. Bad dreams and anxiety nightmares make for an exhausting night, and she has school in the morning. Before, it affected her schoolwork, her mood, her friendships. I don’t want that to happen again, you know?”

He sat solemn and silent for a moment. “I don’t tend to sleep much at all, myself, Detective. I do appreciate the offer of a room while the penthouse is inspected, but I’m unlikely to sleep for long in it. If—if I hear the child in any distress, I’ll certainly let you know.”

“Thanks.”  Chloe didn’t look too carefully at how easy and natural it felt to leave Lucifer on guard over her child’s dreams, to trust him to come and go in the house as she slept. No, ‘safe’ really wasn’t the word, but it was something.

“Is that why you’re still sitting up tonight?” he continued. “Listening for bad dreams downstairs?”

“Mmm. No. I really just couldn’t sleep. I suppose.” She thought about it and smiled softly. “Although maybe? And maybe you’re picking up some moves from that therapist you claim to have.”

He replied with a small smile of his own, but was quiet again. She watched him wiggle his long toes in her comforter, and noticed that the window behind him had begun to lighten distinctly, the shadows in the corners to recede a little.

“What’s your excuse?” she finally asked. “I’m clearly not the only one still awake.”

It was his turn to stretch, and she wondered if he knew the lamplight would play over his lean body in quite that way as he leaned back on his elbows. She wouldn’t put it past him to show off, but his answer sounded serious. “Like I said, I don’t tend to sleep much, especially not at this hour.”

“You mean, the dead of night? Or the earliest hours of the morning?”

“Prime hours for the nightclub, my dear. Den of iniquity, remember? The clientele tends to be a bit less ‘ladies-who-lunch’ and a bit more ‘ladies-and-gents-of-the-evening.’ Keeps a Devil busy.”

She couldn’t help but needle him. After all, he seemed intent on asking her all sorts of personal things, and she was (just barely) curious. “As does sleeping with said clientele. And some of the staff, I take it?”

His eyes glittered and his lips parted in a distinctly naughty smile, white teeth, a suggestion of tongue. “Well, well. Are you actually interested in my sexual exploits, after all, Detective? I do try not to kiss and tell, but Patrick’s quite athletic and original in that department, if you must know. You really should’ve taken me up on my offer the other night. You wouldn’t believe some of the notches on that man’s belt.”  

“Isn’t sleeping with your employees a professional conflict of interest?”

“Hardly, darling. His interests coincide perfectly with mine,” Lucifer said. “Just as with anyone else who comes to my bed. Or coffee table. Or floor.” His sly grin widened. “As I told you before, they all have a good time. You can find out for yourself anytime you’d care to.”

Chloe decided to curtail that conversation, after all. “Lucifer, what are you doing here? Really?”

“You—well, your spawn, I suppose—invited me.”

“No, not here at the house. Here in my room at nearly 6 a.m. Half-dressed. Asking lots of questions.”

“I saw your light.” He flicked one hand, a gesture that took in the rumpled bed with its flood of documents. “It doesn’t take a badge to deduce that you were awake. Working on certain missing persons cases, perhaps? Or worrying over tonight’s adventure at Lux?” He reached across her legs and flipped the Surface around to peer at the screen.  “Ah. Or investigating me again.”

“Bit of all three, I’ll admit.” She sat forward, resting her elbows on her knees and looking closely at him. “Why won’t you and Mazikeen report what you know? Especially if you suspect terrorism.” She pointed to the bruising at the base of his throat, the dark, abraded line clearly visible without a collar to hide it. “That’s assault and battery, too, by the way. But you won’t even talk about it. And Mazikeen didn’t break her nose and nearly lay open her entire face in the earthquake. She could have, I suppose, but she didn’t.”

He rubbed his neck self-consciously. “It’s really simple, Detective. As corrupt as some of your colleagues on the force may be, I don’t relish seeing them run afoul of these people.”

“There are other homes and businesses in the Lux tower, Lucifer. People were injured in that quake.”

“Not permanently. Not badly. Detective, these are people you really don’t want to engage.”

“So, who are they, then? These ‘Grigori.’ Isn’t that what you call them?”

When he looked away as if seeking another line of conversation in the wallpaper, she rested one hand lightly on his leg, the touch more intimate on the thin silk sleepwear than she intended, but she left it there. Nighttime conversations were for confessions and secrets, or so it had seemed when she was a kid sleeping over with friends, or even when she and Dan had been growing serious about each other. Something about the intimacy of darkness and quiet seemed to strengthen newly-forged relationships, ease boundaries that were impenetrable during the day. She waited.

Beneath her fingers, his leg twitched, muscle cording as if he considered and rejected moving away.

“Please, Lucifer,” she said. “Talk to me. Why are you so reticent about this? You’ll gladly share your sex-capades with your staff, but not this? You waited for days before telling me about your wings in that stolen shipping container—and I was able to help, a little at least. What are you so concerned about this time?”

“This time is more dangerous.” A cautious glance, black eyes lingering on her hand. “You also didn’t really believe me about the wings. You still don’t, do you? Story of our working relationship.”

“Lucifer—”

“No, it’s fine, Detective. Perhaps for the best, indeed. But it does put constraints on honesty, no matter that I won’t lie to you.”

“You’re not worried about me not believing you. That hasn’t stopped you before. What, then?”

He sighed and tucked his feet up beneath him as if they were suddenly cold. Her hand dropped away. “Who do you think they are, Detective?”

She answered as directly as she could, hoping it would encourage him. “I don’t know. If I had to guess, they’re some sort of global mafia—a syndicate that uses mythological names as a scare tactic and an internal code to signal chain of command. One that you, and possibly your father or your family, have been associated with in the past. One that you might still be entangled in—or might have run from five years ago. I’m not making judgments,” she added quickly when she saw his shoulders hunch a little. “I’m not asking officially in any way.”

He chuckled, but this time it was a dark, dry sound. “Off the record, then?”

“As a friend. I told you that before. Is this you refusing to believe me , now?”

“Not at all, Detective. I—I just don’t want you mixed up in this when I’m not entirely sure I understand it myself.”

“Why not?”

His jaw worked a moment, as if the words refused to come, as if he had to think and feel his way into some kind of shareable truth. “Their efforts so far seem entirely directed at me and mine. They won’t be a problem for anyone else unless they are blocked. Right now, they don’t know you or even really see you,” he said, a little wonderingly, a man discovering his motivations in the act of giving them voice. “But if you pursue them, they’ll have no choice except to pay attention. And unlike my annoying siblings, they won’t have a care for you and yours. Humans are not off-limits to them. They will use you as canon fodder, if they must. Nothing is beyond them. So, until I know what they truly want, I’d rather you weren’t a part of it.” 

“I can protect myself, Lucifer. Not a damsel, remember?”

“Not at all,” he agreed, the light in his eyes briefly approving before they hooded again, defensive, distant.  “But even so, I’d prefer the LAPD and especially you to stay out of it. This is not work for the police—or for any human”

He looked so somber that Chloe just nodded, accepting the information at face value (for the moment). “Earlier, you said they were former employees,” she said after some thought. “I get that you don’t want to tell me, especially if you were into some sort of criminal enterprises in the past. I do. But this is getting ridiculous, Lucifer. Attacks on your workplace, on your friends and staff, and on you personally. Threats on both sides. I know you’re not squeaky clean. You don’t Even try to hide some things, like the drugs, the favors you do for seedy people—”

“Not all of them are seedy. They’re just favors, Detective. I don’t control who decides to ask.”

“They’re ‘deals with the devil,’ Lucifer, even when you describe them. And you call these dangerous people ‘Grigori,’ which is either dark Judaic mythology or a masquerade for something else. The Cosa Nostra hasn’t been especially active in LA for decades, but as far as we can tell, some of the old Italian crime family still exists and might return in force if they had someone to pick up the reins of the various businesses. The LAPD isn’t paying a lot of attention these days, what with gang violence and the Russians and Triads funneling funds into narcotics and other illegal industries. The timing might be right for a move to consolidate.”

“Someone’s been doing quite a lot of research,” Lucifer said, looking only vaguely offended. Better than she had hoped. “So, just what are you asking, exactly, Detective?”

She steeled herself. “Are you some sort of retired mafia boss? Son of a British crime family? Connected with the Italian-American mob or something similar?”

“Is that what you imagine?” He plucked at the comforter idly. His silver ring caught an edge of grey morning light, and for a second, Chloe could envision suited, thuggish men kneeling to kiss it. “I suppose it makes sense in a warped, human kind of way. But I thought you didn’t actually want to know if I was a criminal? That you hated the thought of me being locked up and off of our cases together?”

“No, I don’t want you to actually be a criminal. There’s a big difference, Lucifer. But I also would prefer that you not be dead. And if these people, these Grigori, can do all this—” She flicked the tablet screen to media coverage of the freak earthquake,  “—they’re not to be trifled with. We can protect you if we need to.”

He stared at the video footage of smoke curling up from the art deco tower, of burst water mains flooding the nearby street. “I don’t even know what it is they want!” His voice turned strident, almost anxious. “Detective, I can’t tell you about them when none of it makes any sense to me, either.”

She closed the Surface and set it aside so that he looked up at her again. For all his earlier bravado, she could see the lines of unease around his eyes. This attack was, perhaps, just a little too close to home, wearing on him in ways she hadn’t yet seen. “So, let’s talk it out,” she offered, matter-of-factly. “Just like we do on my cases. Let me help.”

“It’s hard to talk out something when one of us simply refuses to believe, Detective,” he responded testily. “We’ve had this argument before, and I never make any headway. As clever as you are, you can’t seem to see the truth in front of you. And I don’t dare—.” He cut himself off, lips thinning into a tense line. He raked his fingers through his hair, perhaps the first time she’d seen such a gesture from him. The dark locks bristled, standing at odd angles for a moment, before falling back over his forehead in even greater disarray.

Chloe threw her hands upward in mildly exasperated surrender. “Okay. Look, if it’ll help, let’s just assume for now that I believe it all. You’re the actual Devil, the one and only Ruler of Hellfire and Damnation. Right? Got it. Can we work from that?”

Head tilted, he regarded her with suspicion and just a hint of something she might have called longing in anyone else. “Are you sure you want to do that, Detective?”

“Definitely. Consider me a temporary believer.” She pushed ahead before either of them could overthink this. “So, if you’re the Devil, the actual fire and brimstone Devil, then they’re … what? Demons in your former army?”

Lucifer nodded slowly. “All right, Detective. I’ll play. They’re not demons. They’re much, much worse.”

“What’s worse than demons?” she prodded.

He picked up the tablet and balanced it in one hand pointedly. “If you read this, you know what they are.”

“Wikipedia is a handy tool, but it doesn’t guarantee accuracy. I’d rather hear it from the source. You know how this works, Lucifer. We’ve done it before.”

“Very well, then.”  He met her eyes. “They’re angels.”

Angels. Angels, demons, and the Devil. Of course. She made sure her expression didn’t alter, tried to put herself in the headspace of someone who didn’t find that demented. “Bad angels, I take it? You said that angels weren’t always what they appeared to be.” She remembered him pointing that out several days ago outside of Beelzebean.

“Rather. Angel is simply a species, Detective. A very early creation, well before humanity. But being one isn’t a promissory note for good behavior or interests that coincide with polite society. Or even with what Father intended.”

“So, these angels are like you?”

He bridled at that, pulling himself stiffly upright on the bed. “Not remotely.”

“But you’re the Devil. The Fallen One. Even your license plate on that little car out front proclaims it.”

“Yes, Detective. I am The Devil. The original Fallen. But being Fallen doesn't have to equate to being evil; it’s just an indicator that you’ve disagreed with Father’s interpretation of things. We might debate the justice of that in some cases, including mine.” His voice lost some of its stridency, turning bleak and quiet. “And I haven’t always been Fallen. I didn’t start my existence as the Devil, you know. I didn’t ask for this.” He rubbed his bare arms, again as if feeling chilled in the early morning air.

Chloe tugged at the comforter until he moved off of it, then tossed most of it into this lap for warmth, keeping one corner for herself. The room didn’t seem unusually cool to her, but perhaps she was more acclimated to mornings in the beach house. (Or perhaps it was just that she was wearing more clothes. And not, you know, Satan.) When he didn’t continue, she asked, “How are you different than them, then?”

Drawing the blanket around his shoulders and huddling into it, Lucifer looked very human, at odds with his words when he answered. “I was—still am, I suppose—not an angel. Angels were created as soldiers and servants, physically and mentally tailored for their tasks. I am so much older than the rank and file, one of my Father’s original children, created before the combustion of the universes.” He sighed, suddenly weary. “Before the need to serve.”

“So, what does that make you, if not an angel?” In spite of herself, Chloe was intrigued. His whole devilish persona hinged on this definition of self, one that separated him from everybody else, from the normal human world. (What must his therapist make of that?)

Lucifer hesitated before answering.”I am—I’m an archangel, if you must know.”

“I’m listening,” she assured him when he stopped. “Tell me about archangels?”

He huffed quietly. “We were the first extensions of His hand, the first trial of sentience and life. There are only a few of us, each one housing divinity on a scale never replicated.” He paused, looking at her worriedly, seeing how she was taking his words. “We are Father’s children in truth, unlike anything else in creation. For whatever that is worth. In my case, apparently not much.”

“That sounds…” She thought about it for a moment. “Lonely, actually. It sounds lonely. Were you the first?”

He shook his head. “Second, after my elder brother Michael, the Demiurge. Unlike Michael, I came into this existence untasked. Lacking his ability to create being from nothingness, I was called to life out of the instinct to shape and craft and criticize. I was—” He licked his lips, swallowed. “I am Will incarnate, Detective. The Lightbringer. The Shaper of Worlds. I am Desire and Destruction, and so much that is beautiful and terrible in this cosmos is so because of me.” Staring down into the folds of the comforter, he almost whispered, “And still, I was—am—will ever be—the first to Fall.”

Fascinated, barely breathing, Chloe listened in silence, watching the struggle in the tension of his body, the rigid planes of his face. No bespoke suit to hide behind. No glass of whiskey to give him room to think. No glib, quick, snarky innuendo to distract her. Even as he spoke of being one of the most powerful beings in creation, he had never seemed more genuinely frail, fallible, vulnerable. Her heart lurched in sympathy.

And how intricate this story, this created delusion! What childhood trauma, what layers of PTSD or psychosis underwrote such self-definition? How much did he actually believe? How much was so deeply ingrained from his past that—

Chloe blinked and shut down that train of thought. Just for now, she’d promised to try to believe. She owed it to him to try, even if only for a moment.

He cleared his throat after a pause, heaving a deeper breath. “But you asked about the Grigori, yes, Detective?”

Chloe nodded reluctantly and felt an opportunity slip quietly away. She knew no way to keep him talking about himself, even metaphorically. What questions could she ask to evoke what she felt lingering in the air between them but had no words to describe?

“Do you know, the Grigori are actually the cause of rather a lot of the Devil’s bad rap.” He brightened a bit, some of the edge of indignation returning. “You know what I mean. That little pitchfork-wielding beastie sitting on people’s shoulders and inciting them to commit heinous acts, espousing rape and murder and incest, provoking pointless hatreds, even unscrewing salt shaker lids in restaurants patronized by the elderly. These evils weren’t my doing, Detective, although your entire species believes otherwise. Frankly, I couldn’t care less about what humanity gets up to, and I’ve always found you don’t need celestial creativity in order to imagine and enact things worthy of punishment! You’re a cop; surely you’d agree?”

He didn’t wait for a response, speaking more easily now. “Some of the angelic host found it a bit amusing to get involved, to shake humanity and see what fell out, if you will. They tinkered with Dad’s favorite project, just to see what happened.” He stopped again, thinking. “I mean, the Silver City is shockingly dull, so I get the impetus, but their machinations eventually had to turn even Dad’s rather ironclad stomach.”

“And so your father, what? Kicked them out of the house?”

“Not at first. Dad wasn’t the most hands-on, even then. And firstborn Michael was already asleep in his eternal chambers, the lazy bastard. As for me, I was—” Lucifer twitched, turning over his long, elegant fingers in the comforter. He flexed them, rhythmically bending each finger as if playing his beloved piano or rolling a coin over their backs. He face was taut with memories she couldn’t fathom.

“You were . . .?” Chloe prompted.

His gaze flickered up to hers, then away again. The fingers rolled their invisible coin twice more before clenching. “Well, if you must know, I was still writhing and near insensible in the pit.”

She shivered at the bleakness in his voice, suddenly cold herself.

“Whatever my faults, the Grigori aren’t one of them. I wasn’t even capable of questioning the sudden flood of corrupted human souls at the gates. Hell and demonkind merely shaped themselves around me, absorbing them like mother’s milk. Remarkable how creative guilty human souls can be. They hardly need a Devil.” Looking bitter, he trailed off again.

“But the Grigori ended up in Hell with you, eventually?”

Lucifer gave a caustic laugh. “Eventually, yes. After plagues and wars and centuries of degradations, it must have been their experiments with sireing hybrid offspring that finally got Dad’s attention. You see, divinity isn’t to be shared, and apparently for good reason. The spawn of these largely forced unions weren’t quite viable—in a world-destroying kind of way, as it turns out. So, your planet got an epic flood. And I got a flood of Fallen angels on my doorstep, too, all chained and furious and bloody-minded and still horny. Because Dad is ever the fairest of them all.”

“What should your father have done, if not thrown them into Hell?” she couldn’t help but ask.

“Unmade us all,” came the too quick, too certain reply. Lucifer lifted his gaze to the slanted wood ceiling, as if glaring through it to some invisible other plane. “It would have been a mercy. But He has never been merciful to His own.”

She felt a little nauseous at the dark pain in his voice, at the the wide, dark-lined eyes that were no longer teasing her or inspecting the room or concerned with anything in this world. For all his disclaimers of difference from the ‘rank and file’ of the monsters, he seemed more than ready to share their dissolution. She wondered why and knew she couldn’t ask. “So,” Chloe grasped for their original conversation a little desperately. “Why haven’t I heard of them? The Grigori, I mean. I’ve definitely heard of God and the Devil, even Michael the Archangel. Why not these fallen angels who preyed on humanity?”

“Partly because your scriptures are an abandoned work in progress.” Lucifer let the comforter around his shoulders slide back to the bed and swung himself to his feet, seemingly needing to move. He stepped over to the window, raising the blinds to peer out at the hazy ocean beyond. His back to her, he explained. “There are whole chapters and books removed and replaced and pottered around with. Inevitably, even the original human writers only had part of the picture, and they also often had other agendas.” He turned after a moment, leaning against the window frame. “But mostly because humanity really doesn’t want to remember the Watchers.”

“Watchers?”

“Just another name for them. That was their original charge, you know. To Watch. To learn how humanity grew into itself, to chronicle and occasionally, when asked nicely, to provide small aid or succor. Instead, they became the predatory eyes in the darkness, seekers of all imagined depravities, and they instructed those humans who were monstrously inclined so that humanity’s natural penchant for sin grew and stretched itself in ever more inventive ways. There’s no need to remember them, Detective. After all, you have their leavings to contend with still among your own kind.” He nodded at her gun and badge on the nightstand. “You know that better than most, I’d think.”

“Maybe.” She rubbed her face tiredly. “I don't really blame human evil on supernatural forces, you know.”

“I have noticed. But surely you can feel it when in their presence?”

Chloe remembered her reaction to Samyaza in the garage, her sense that each of the three men she’d seen with Lucifer were somehow dangerous, somehow wrong. Was it coincidence, that creeping horror? Could it have been some latent, even primordial, instinct roused by—

She shook herself. This was Lucifer’s story, the means by which he justified whatever criminal enterprises he’d once been a part of (or was still a part of). It was a skillful literary framework for what might be generations of illegal activity. None of it was actually real, although all of it intimated some kind of distorted truth, no doubt. Time to get back to reality, Decker , she told herself sharply. Don’t get too caught up in whatever this is. It’s a game, a tool. But it’s so very consistent, and he seems so genuine. “What happened to the Grigori, Lucifer?”

“After they Fell, you mean?” He waved one hand almost dismissively, propping himself on the wide window sill. “They carved out spaces for themselves in the landscape of Hell, mostly in Tartarus although some of them prefer the particular torments of other locales. It’s not a luxury villa, you know. It’s pretty much Hell for all involved, whatever their status—human soul, Fallen angel, even the Devil Himself. Except for demonkind, of course; for them, it’s just home. But for the Fallen, it’s as much a punishment for our failings as place to rule, although the Grigori have certainly tried to make it more the latter.”  He grimaced. “The gentrification of Hell. Can you even imagine?”

“Can’t they just leave? You did.” Even temporarily trying to work within this tangled fantasy universe was giving Chloe a headache. How did Lucifer maintain it so coherently? Practice, she supposed. How many years—a lifetime, maybe—of practice? She wondered if anyone in Gangs (or maybe someone across the pond in Scotland Yard’s division on syndicate crime) had ever heard of a Grigori gang or cartel. She had searched the criminal databases for “Lucifer Morningstar” many months ago and turned up zilch. Maybe these new names?

“I would have said their chains prevented it, but it seems they’ve figured out a way,” he said sourly. “Hardly fair. When I Fell, I burned. My impact created the bloody pit, which continues to rage with the corrupted fires of creation even now, millennia later. Had I not been immortal, I think I would have been utterly consumed in those first centuries. I’m not sure that wasn’t Father’s plan from the start.” 

“That’s horrible.” Had Lucifer broken away from his father’s criminal enterprises, then? Had he endured attempts on his life? Is that why he was scarred so badly—and why these men were tracking him now?

Still leaning in the window, Lucifer stared at his hands again in the grey light, as if seeing something she could not. “But the result is that I’m not bound to Hell except by my duty—which II’ve decided is over. But when the Watchers Fell, they were bound by my Father’s Word; their very chains are made of His grace. Those chains protect them from the atmosphere of the underworld, but they also limit their ability to be anywhere else. So, no, they aren’t supposed to be able to leave.”

“But they clearly have. Sam and the little ferrety one and the homeless guy. What was his name? Bat?”

“Yes.” He heaved a breath, pushing away from the window to pace restlessly beside the bed. Her eyes followed his movements, drawn to the mangled skin on his back, the unusual hunch of his shoulders. “And here my understanding ends, Detective. I don’t know how they’re here. Or even if they’re still here. I would be surprised if they didn’t have to go back after expending the energies they did on Lux yesterday. But, as you say, it’s all conjecture at this point.”

Chloe rushed to ask one question that had been bothering her since they visited Peter Gross’s skate park friends. “How have they been able to find you—at Venice Beach, on the Long Beach strip, in the alley last night? I’m almost sure I saw Bat at your car when we were in Beelzebean days ago, now that I think about it.”

“By reputation?” He paused mid-stride to offer her a half-hearted quirk of a grin. “The Devil isn’t ever hard to find. That’s rather the point, isn’t it?”

“Lucifer—”

“I don’t know, Detective. Really,” he said, more serious.

Chloe chewed the edge of a nail, thinking hard. If this were a case, what would she be asking? “So, you told me earlier they wanted favors that you wouldn’t grant. What favors?”

“Just one,” he said. “They want me to come home.”

“Back to Hell?”

“The very same.”

“And you refused, so—what? They attack your home and your livelihood, take away your means of survival here on planet earth, just so you have no choice but to go back?” Is that what Mazikeen had been saying tonight? Chloe wasn’t entirely sure.

“Perhaps.” Lucifer sounded unconvinced. “I’m beginning to think Samyaza deliberately stalled me on the fire escape so his bros could go after Maze. It’s as if they’re trying to piss me off, trying to get me to come for them. It’s bloody suicidal!”

An idea pushed its way into her tired brain. “If they can’t convince you to go home, what if they’re setting you up? Making it so you’ll pursue them there in anger? Same end result.”

He hummed, rubbing at his stubble thoughtfully. “That’s very insightful, Detective. I wonder. But it would all depend on them actually wanting me back in the kingdom—which I can’t believe. Without me there, they can do as they please. There’s a power vacuum, if you will. The Fallen might go to war with each other, but that’s their typical mode of existence, constant squabbling over territory and allegiances from the hellspawn. With me gone, they can actually win and rule.”

Chloe yawned suddenly, startling herself. What time was it now? Did she even want to know? “Well, we need more data, then. What about other possible motives?”

“Nothing motivates them except narcissism.”

A second yawn quickly followed the first. “Vanity? Selfishness? Greed? All good human motives, too.” At the third yawn, she dropped her head forward into her hands. “But that’s all I’ve got tonight, I think. Although it does beg the question, if they want you home, and they’re willing to incite you enough to pursue them— are you pursuing them?”

He stopped roaming around the foot of the bed. “I’m right here, Detective.”

“Mazikeen isn’t.”

Lucifer cut his eyes over at her. “More insights? Maybe I’ve told you a bit too much tonight, after all.” When she kept looking up at him, he added, “She has orders not to engage them.”

“Well, that’s something, I guess.” Sleepily, Chloe reached for her scattered work materials, finding them in the rumpled comforter or scooping them off the floor. She prised the sticky protein bar out of the sheets and flipped it into the waste basket under her bedside table. “It’s all a very complex and well-polished story, Lucifer. I’m still not sure how the metaphor works, but it’s impressive.”

“I told you. It’s not a metaphor. It’s not a game.” He regarded her coolly. “Are you afraid of the truth, Detective?”

“You don’t scare me, Lucifer.” She dropped everything on the floor beside the bed and dragged the comforter back from where he’d left it.

“No, I know I don’t.” Was it her imagination, or did he look more exhausted, too? “I’m rather glad I don’t. But you also still don’t believe. Play along another minute, Detective. If you did believe, if it were all true for you, would you be scared of me, then?”

“No,” she said. “If anything, I think I might be scared for you.” When he looked puzzled, she explained. “If the supernatural were real, what could I—an ordinary human cop—do to protect you from that?”

His face softened in the morning light. “You are anything but ordinary, Detective.”

She ignored that, wondering instead about truth of another kind. If she discovered that he was the head of some near-silent Cosa Nostra invasion of L.A., what would she do? Or if his favors all linked back to a gathering of illegal businesses, driving hooks into not only the drug trade but more quasi legal adventures within industries like fashion, bookmaking, banking, music? Would finding out that he was the Devil, capital “D,” of legend and lore be so much worse? She fluffed the comforter over her legs and slid down a bit among the pillows, watching him. “It’s probably good that I don’t believe. I like my own agency. Free will, remember?”

He hummed. “I do. All the time.”

It has been one hell of a night , she thought. “Do you know, I think I could get a little sleep now. You should, too. We only have an hour before we need to get back to work.”

He nodded, expression immediately transforming, sharpening with mischief. “Kicking me out of the bedroom, Detective?”

“You’d better believe it.”

“You threw me out of the house once before, I recall. And now, you practically expel me from your very bed.” Pretending to be put out and indignant, he ambled toward the hallway, grousing, 'Whatever happened to 'Get thee behind me, Satan?’” He threw her a glance back over his shoulder. “Because I’m quite capable from all sorts of pleasurable angles, you know. Although it would deprive you of the view. Perhaps your mother wouldn’t mind the addition of some mirrors—”

She chucked a pillow at his retreating form, only to have him snatch it out of the air and pitch it back to her with perfect ease. Almost supernatural ease.

“Oh, yes,” he said, as if remembering something, the corner of his mouth twitching up. “I do have something that might help you sleep. Meant to bring it with me when I came in before, as promised.”

She frowned at him, suspicious. “Promised when?”

Without answering, he vanished down the hall for a moment, and came back with a small leather-bound book, dark and discrete, and laid it on the nightstand beside her gun and badge. He gestured for her to pick it up and stood waiting, expectant and over-bright, especially for that hour of the morning after a sleepless night.

She looked at him, sighed, and reached for the book. It had pictures this time, of course—artful and highly detailed drawings of naked men and women engaged in myriad copulatory acts. “Lucifer—,” she began, closing the book.

“Sex is naturally soporific, Detective. Try chapter 4 on for size,“ he said, talking fast. “Women get a bit of short shrift in the original Sanskrit, but some of these later versions make up for that. In spades, I might add.”

Wordlessly, she extended a finger toward the door.

Lifting his hands, he stepped backward, but the defensive effect was undercut by the wicked gleam in his eyes. “Solo play is important in maintaining a healthy libido. Don’t bother sparing me the noises as your housemate. I really don’t mind.”

“Lucifer,” Chloe said evenly, smothering a good-humored snort behind a mask of irritation. “Get out of my room.”

“Leave you to it, you mean, Detective? I’ll close this, shall I?” He lingered dramatically, hand on door knob as if she might call him back.

“Out, Lucifer.”  She tossed the book back on the nightstand. (If there hadn’t been a chance it was quite valuable, she’d have thrown it at him.) When he still waited, grinning down at her, she reached toward something else on the stand. “We appear to be having an issue with communication. Perhaps if I explain it to you in handgun,’out’ will be a little more clear.”

From behind the closing door, she heard him chuckle again. “Speaking of hands, do let me know if you want hands-on tutelage at any point. I have it on good authority that I—.”

“Out! Out! Out!”

The door clicked shut.

Chloe flung herself back on her bed, shaking her head but smiling. If he wasn’t the devil incarnate, he deserved to be. She glanced once at the neat little volume now balanced on the edge of the nightstand, then rolled over in her comforter and closed her eyes. Sleep came surprisingly easily.