Title: It's Not the End of the World, After All
Rating: A nebulous zone between PG-13 and R. There's swearing and a suggestion of a hint of innuendo, but surprisingly nothing else. I believe it sublimated into anger.
Notes: This is somewhat belated and overlong response to The Day After Tomorrow Fic Challenge. Better late than never? The idea wouldn't go away. At any rate, it's technically a crossover, but it's completely Brimstone oriented for the most part, so I dumped it in that folder instead.
Disclaimer: Brimstone characters and concepts belong to assorted people who are not me. I'm not entirely sure who, exactly, they are, and I can't help feeling the urge to take away ownership rights for gratuitous abuse, but in legal matters they have precedence. The Day After Tomorrow concepts belongs to more people who aren't me, but presumably also aren't the first set of people either. I'm just doing this for fun.
Warnings: Gratuitous destruction of a Dodge Neon. The end of the world. Some cursing. And either innuendo or Zeke and Lucifer being... Zeke and Lucifer; I can't tell anymore.
Thanks Go To: To Canthlian, RosaleenDhu, Cheshire, and Z for beta-reading.
Zeke was hesitant to call the weather outside rain, for much the same way he'd have been hesitant to call Hell 'unpleasant'--it was basically accurate, but an understatement to the degree of ridiculousness. It was, technically, raining, it just felt entirely wrong to apply that term to the sort of torrential downpour that made him want to see if he could find Noah and wheedle a place on the Ark.
Possibly literally. These days it was hard to be sure.
It wouldn't be an issue much longer anyway, he figured; the last he'd heard the temperature was plunging faster on the coast, but it was still dropping fairly quickly here, which meant sleet or snow or--
The sound of ice pinging off the windows drifted past drawn drapes of his room's sole window.
--or hail. Though he imagined the snow would get here eventually.
The radio still worked, though the TV had been out for a while now, for the most part; he was amused to see that the emergency broadcasting system test had gone on as scheduled despite the fact that it was in all other ways obvious that this was, in fact, not a test. He'd half-expected to have company when that happened, the Devil with some sort of pithy observation about the nature of humanity, but so far he'd been entirely alone since he'd holed up in this run-down roadside motel--he'd been doing road trip thing again, and wasn't even sure where he was, aside from somewhere between Ohio and Wyoming--to wait out whatever was happening.
If it could be waited out. Zeke was starting to think otherwise. Actually, he'd passed that point a while ago, and was starting to wonder if he could make it through all the water to find some serious liquor and get as hammered as a dead man possibly could. He had a feeling, though, that he knew where that would end, and as bad as things were, Zeke still wasn't entirely sure he was ready to shoot his own eyes out.
He'd turned the radio off after he'd found out what happened to LA.
The problem was without television or radio or so much as a paperback novel he didn't have anything to do but think. He'd spent an uncertain amount of time lying in silence, sprawled on the motel bed, with its slightly faded but freshly washed calico comforter, listening to the click of ice on glass, and wondering if this was some sort of cosmic joke at his expense, or part of the Devil's plan--or possibly part of Somebody Else's Plan entirely. None of the options were really attractive for him personally, though he had to admit that the second had a certain elegance. Take some poor schmo from Hell and offer him a bargain to hunt down Hell's escapees in exchange for, once the job was done, a second chance at life on Earth, a second chance to be with his wife and live in a world that didn't involve pain and agony and eternal torment--and then neglect to mention if the job wasn't done in five years or so, well, too bad, because that world was going to end.
Ros was in LA. Had been in LA. Could still be in LA, Zeke guessed; he supposed it was possible she could be surviving the things that were happening there. A previously undiscovered pessimistic bent of Zeke's somehow doubted that, though; a sickening, sinking feeling in his stomach seemed to suggest that the happy ending he'd been still hopefully clinging to had just been called off, with a little under two dozen souls left to go.
At least, he thought with a sigh, this... whatever this was... didn't seem to be the work of one of those souls. Zeke had developed a steadily increasing... sensitivity, for lack of a better word, to things created with or done by Hell-given powers, and while this didn't feel exactly natural, he was pretty sure it wasn't being done or caused by one of the people he had been supposed to catch. The situation was still bad enough that he couldn't exactly call that a relief, but at least he wouldn't have that guilt to carry around, too.
The guilt of not getting done in time was more than enough, really. He sighed again, eyes closed, then tensed as he heard a sound.
Describing that sound was... difficult, really. Nobody else, he'd noticed, ever seemed to hear it, and you had enough difficulty explaining that you were hearing things no one else was without also getting into the fact that if asked to describe what that sound was like, you'd have to say... 'woosh'.
Kind of undignified for the entrance and exit of the Prince of Hell, but maybe the Devil had decided a fanfare would be tacky or something.
"You're wallowing again," came an entirely-too-familiar voice from somewhere near his ear. "I hate it when you wallow."
He cracked open an eye and turned his head slightly to the left, then blinked. The Devil was lying on his side beside Zeke, head propped on hand propped on elbow propped on pillow, a reproving, disappointed look on his face--though there was that definite edge of mockery in his eyes like there always was. Black suit coat over a t-shirt with what Zeke seemed to remember was a Lorax and the words, 'Save the Truffula Tree'; he couldn't see the pants without more effort than he really wanted to give, but he'd bet they matched the jacket. Not really that atypical for Lucifer, really, but maybe that was what surprised Zeke; the Devil had a tendency to fit into the situation in his own uniquely quirky manner, and Zeke would have expected at least a poncho. Though maybe not in bed.
Okay, weird thought there.
He decided to ignore it in favor of resuming his ceilingward stare and observing, dryly, "I was wondering when you were going to show up."
"What, to watch you moon over the fate of humankind in general and your charming wife in particular? Contrary to popular belief, I don't really enjoy the suffering of others that much, especially when it's angst. Quite frankly, angst is dull." Zeke opened his mouth to answer that, thought better of it--he made it a point to rile the Devil as much as the Devil riled him, sure, but it was just that, a point, and he really didn't need it right now. He shook his head, briefly raised his hands and dragged them down his face, then asked what he figured was the most important question. "Is this the Apocalypse?" A faint snort came from beside him. "What, in the four horsemen, seven seals, raining fire sense? Well, actually, the latter is happening here and there, but otherwise... no. Not remotely."
Zeke blinked and gave the ceiling a skeptical look; he figured the Devil would see it anyway. "You sure about that? Because it looks a lot like the end of the world from where I'm sitting."
"Technically you're not sitting, though, you're lying."
"...does it matter?"
"The Devil is in the details, Ezekiel," Lucifer said, sounding positively chipper.
He laughed a little at that, almost despite himself, and then sat up, taking stock of the situation. Static-filled TV-screen, check. Light the color of old, unpleasant dishwater leaking around the drapes, check. Hail still pinging against the window, check, except it was more sharply rapping--probably a sign it was getting bigger. Devil still lounging on his bed, check. The power was still on, God--or somebody--knew how, but he'd only turned on a single dim lamp, which meant that the Devil, damn him--if that wasn't redundant--had been right: he had been wallowing.
"All right, I'm sitting," he told Lucifer. "And you know what? It still looks like the end of the world."
"Ah, but that's not what you asked me about," the Devil answered, with a jaunty smile, and Zeke blinked.
"Yes it was," he said, giving the Devil a look which he was fairly sure he could interpret just fine. After all, he'd gotten good at reading the Devil's looks in the years he'd been stuck in this job, or at least at classifying them; the one Lucifer was giving him now in response to Zeke's came pretty close to being verbally represented by, 'What fools these mortals be,' but with a heavy dosing of, 'and why do I have to put up with them?'
"The end of the world and the Apocalypse are not actually synonymous, Ezekiel," the Devil said in a very patient tone, managing to sound a great deal like a college professor giving a lecture for all the incongruity of setting and position. "So no, not the Apocalypse," he went on, rolling off the bed and adding in an undertone, "and not really the end of the world, though that's a finer distinction and we can get to it later." Zeke raised his eyebrows and got ignored as the Devil strolled over to the window and pulled the drapes open. "This has nothing to do with Heaven," he went on, gesturing outside with a raised palm. "This is all about Terra. It's not even properly patriarchal like it would be if God were involved--no, this is a maternal thing through and through."
Zeke did try to think it through for a minute, but he was being distracted by the way the light manage to look even worse when seeing it clearly, and the fact that the hail was currently smashing the windshields in of the remaining few cars in the parking lot. "...what are you talking about?"
The Devil rolled his eyes in that, 'You're being deliberately dense, aren't you?' kind of way. "Maternal, Terra.... Honestly, Ezekiel, must I connect all the dots for you?" Zeke continued staring blankly at him and he gave a dramatic, put-upon sigh. "Mother Earth, detective. She's been grumbling for a while now and you've all been steadily ignoring her, and now Nature has decided to pitch a temper tantrum and see if that gets your attention."
Zeke blinked at him a moment and then deliberately looked out the window at the hail in time to see a chunk of ice only slightly smaller than a grapefruit have an abrupt meeting with a Dodge Neon. "A... a fucking tantrum? Isn't this a bit overkill for-" He broke off, gave the Devil a long look, and then shook his head. "Nevermind. Forgot who I was talking to."
Lucifer's eyes narrowed, and he crossed his arms. "And what, exactly, is that supposed to mean?"
"Well, you're the guy who tore Heaven apart over a philosophical snit. This probably looks about right to you," Zeke said lightly, and hid a smile as the Devil glared.
Sometimes, really, he didn't have a point; sometimes it was just fun.
"I can leave again, you know," the Devil said, and he sounded almost petulant. Odd man, well, odd being, really; people had gotten bits and pieces right, and usually Zeke thought he knew what to expect, but nobody had the whole picture, and Zeke had to admit he'd been surprised more than once.
Zeke dropped back into an arms-spread sprawl on the bed, closing his eyes again. "Fine. Go ahead and go. I'll get back to my wallowing."
He didn't hear anything for a long moment, which eventually made him curious enough to crack open an eye and see if the Devil actually had vanished. He hadn't; instead Lucifer was standing in front of the bed glaring down at Zeke with his hands on his hips and the light from the window providing a distinctly odd silhouette almost like a...
Another long moment of silence, and he was fighting not to squirm. It wasn't that he was afraid of the Devil, exactly... which was an odd thought in itself. It was just he could practically feel that glare as a weight, and when you factored in the silence....
"If you don't have anything to add, could you just go already?" he finally snapped, and was irritated to see the corner of Lucifer's mouth briefly twitch upwards. Zeke had the distinct feeling he'd just lost a staring match.
The Devil also turned out to be surprisingly petty.
"And leave you here like this?" Lucifer said, and shoved his legs out of the way to sit down on the edge of the bed beside him. "Wallowing isn't going to achieve anything, and in your present state.... Let's just say I'd rather not leave and then run into you a few hours later... back home."
Zeke's eyes narrowed. "You never can keep out of my head, can you." Not a question.
The Devil's answering smile was actually brighter than the light leaking in the window. Zeke sighed and closed his eyes again. "I'm not going to shoot my own eyes out. Now will you leave?"
"How remarkably petulant. I thought you were better than that, Ezekiel, I really did."
He gave a sharp exhalation that wasn't quite a snort. "Everyone I've ever loved is probably dead or dying right now. If I'm a little off my game, indulge me."
There was a lengthy, expectant pause in response. "I don't approve of self-pity any more than I do of wallowing, you know," the Devil finally said, in a low, dangerous sort of voice. "At least not when it's interfering with your brain processes; I need you more or less in good working order. You have a job to do, remember?"
Zeke opened his eyes and gave the Devil an incredulous look. "Why? The world is ending out there. Why do I still have to play your fucking hellhound?"
Lucifer rolled his eyes again. "If the world was really ending, Ezekiel, do you honestly think I'd be here talking to you? Don't flatter yourself; in the event of the true apocalypse I'll have better things on my mind than one stubborn little hunter. No matter how cute he is." He added the last sentence in an undertone, with a sidelong little look.
Zeke... blinked, at that, and then just decided to pretend he hadn't heard it. "Okay, okay, fine," he said, waving his hands. "No Apocalypse, check. Granted, I always figured that's what everyone dying meant...."
He got yet another eye roll; the Devil was using up his monthly quota at this rate. "Not everyone dying, detective. 'Almost everyone' I'll grant you--the population isn't so much going to take a drop as a plunge. And I want you to think about that for a moment--and about the fact that for my escapees, this isn't going to be much more than a minor inconvenience... unless you get unusually lucky for a change."
Zeke blinked again and frowned, then bit off a curse. He hadn't really thought of that, but yeah--even ignoring human survivors of this whatever it was, for the escaped Damned being drowned, frozen, electrocuted by lightning, sucked into a twister, or any of the other fun events the radio was talking about would be... a bit of an irritant at best, unless, like the Devil said, Zeke got lucky and some flying shrapnel happened to hit them in the eyes. Hell, Zeke didn't even really feel cold, anymore. And if people were going to survive....
He gave up on biting back the curse. "Fuck."
The Devil gave him the sort of smile people tended to give a dog who had just done a particularly cute trick. "Starting to get my drift, then, Zekey?" 'Zekey'? He made a face but didn't ask. "What's going on out there isn't so much the end of the world as a change in the world. In fact, it's actually the next Ice Age, which means that real estate on the Equator just had a healthy jump in value. And goodness knows I can think of plenty of your remaining lost souls who are going to find the situation... rather to their advantage," he said, with a sharp and nasty sort of smile that evoked some mental images that made Zeke shudder.
"All right, you have a point," he admitted, closing his eyes again. "So?"
"...so?" The Devil sounded incredulous.
"Yeah, so. So what? I wanted a second chance, remember? A second chance to live, a second chance to get it right, a second chance with-" With Ros, he thought, but he couldn't finish the thought. Didn't really need to, anyway, he supposed. "So why should I even fucking bother? Altruism? Like you could ever sell that. Job satisfaction? That's a joke." There was dead silence from Lucifer; he cracked open his eyes and found the Devil watching him with a narrowed gaze. "Is this the bit where you tell me that she's still alive? That she was somehow spared and I can still have that? Come on then, do your thing. Lie to me."
And then the Devil had somehow grabbed his shirt collar, knotting his fist in fabric and jerking him upright. Zeke found himself grabbing onto the Devil's arm, but it was more for balance than anything else; he didn't really try to get free. "Why?" the Devil hissed, and Zeke briefly wondered at himself, because he had clearly pissed Lucifer off, and he still. wasn't. scared. "I'll tell you why," he said, and then sort of shoved Zeke back, hard enough that he bounced off the mattress despite the fact he hadn't been lifted that far off of it.
"Why? Because if you're honest and stop wallowing, you'll admit it doesn't matter if your lovely wife is alive for you to go back to or not--and if I was ever going to make it easier for you and actually tell you which it is, Ezekiel, believe me that I am not going to now. The truth is, this hasn't been about your precious Rosalyn or our bargain for a long time now. However much you have wanted that, whatever it's worth to you, it's been a... bonus. A wonderful, delightful dream, but you'd keep on working even if she were seeing someone else, wouldn't you? This isn't about her, and this isn't about you, it's about them. It's about the fact you weren't just a cop, you were a good cop, a cop who cared, and you still are--and they're not just bad guys, they're very bad guys.
"Why, Mr. Stone? Because we both know, as much as I'd love to pretend otherwise, you're not really my hound; you don't hunt because I tell you to. If you're any kind of canine, Mr. Stone, you're a sheepdog--and right now there are wolves out there, and your flock is getting smaller by the second."
All he could do was stare speechlessly for a long moment, leaning half-upright on his elbows and essentially goggling at the Devil, who was glaring back with a level of intensity that made Zeke somewhat surprised the sheets weren't catching on fire. He'd been chewed out by the Devil before, yeah, but... it wasn't all that common a thing, and never this particular topic.
And the worst bit was, Lucifer was probably right.
After a long silence during which the sounds of things getting smashed with ice outside the window got steadily louder, Zeke finally swallowed and said, in a voice that ended up rasping a little despite his best efforts, "Woof."
The Devil blinked, then smiled slowly. "Was that an agreement?"
"Can you come up with another reason for me to be barking?" Zeke asked, a little incredulously, then wished he hadn't when Lucifer got a speculative look on his face. "Nevermind. I don't want to know. I concede that you may have a point, good enough?"
The Devil leaned backwards and nodded, still smiling. "It'll do. So?"
"So, are you going to stop wallowing and get on with it? It's not the end of the world, after all. Although that one R.E.M. song does apply."
"Oh, wait, that was after your time, wasn't it?"
"Did you know you're petty?"
The Devil drew in a sharp breath, a wounded look on his face, but it was so exaggerated Zeke knew better. "Why ever would you think such a thing?"
"I don't know; past history?" Another wounded look, and Zeke rolled his eyes and decided it would probably be easiest just to let the matter drop. "Okay, so, what, I'm supposed to go out hunting in that?" he said, gesturing out the window. The hail was tapering off as snow took over, and it showed all the signs of turning into a whiteout.
"Mmm," the Devil said, sounding speculative. "It does look a touch unfriendly, doesn't it? But I'm afraid it's only going to get worse, Ezekiel--I did mention an Ice Age, didn't I?"
Zeke gave him an incredulous stare. "You were serious?"
"Didn't I sound it? We're inland enough to blunt some of the worst effects--New York is going to turn into a solid ice cube, rather decorative actually, but I imagine rough on the few surviving inhabitants--but we're still entirely too far North, Ezekiel. This stuff can't kill you because you're already dead, but it can rather inconvenience you and since I'm certainly not going to bail you out...."
"Ice Age," Zeke said, flatly. The Devil nodded with shiny eyes and a shiny smile, like a kid with a new toy. "New York frozen solid." More nodding. "You're enjoying this," Zeke accused.
"Mayhem, destruction, and the definitive end of reality TV. What's not to love?"
Well that was... typical, really, Zeke thought. The not-quite-the-end-of-the-world, and Lucifer was chirping about the end of cruddy programming. Yep; the Devil was definitely petty. Zeke shook his head and decided to ignore him, getting off the bed and starting to get together his stuff for what looked like it was going to be a miserable journey south.
"If you're very good," the Devil suggested from the bed behind him, "maybe I can give you a bone."
Zeke ignored that, too. He had a job to get on with, after all.