The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea
The Devil gets reacquainted with another immortal who forces him to consider some difficult truths. One-shot.
No copyright infringement is intended.
She stood at the edge of the water, paddling delicately, dipping perfect feet in the gentle waves up to her perfect ankles. Her dark hair was resplendent around her shoulders, lighter where it caught the afternoon sun, and her piercing eyes were hidden behind shades of smoked glass. The blue dress hugged her figure, cut high at her thighs and low at her breasts. She looked up as he approached. For a moment the only sounds were the sea as it lapped the shore, and the occasional gull in search of food.
"It's been a long time." Her voice was steady.
The Devil stared at her. A loose strand of hair caught in the breeze and he brushed it back, at the same moment altering his appearance, shedding his suit for a half open shirt and generously cut shorts, barefoot so that he could join her, as he did now, at the tide's edge.
She reached out, almost not trembling as she did so, flexing her fingers briefly to hide the tremor. She touched his cheek gently with her fingertips, her first finger brushing the corner of his mouth. He had to struggle to contain the urge to grab her palm and press it to his lips. He imagined he could taste it, the soft flesh that was coated in salt air and tasted of her.
"You seem – older. Being ruler of hell has taken its toll," she commented, then, seeing a flicker of hurt in his eyes, added, "Don't worry, my love. You're still an immorally lustful object. Still dignified. Still charming. Still handsome. Still mocking the world with that crooked grin and magnificent laugh."
She laughed, then, a beautiful sound. He wanted to say that his grin was not crooked. He wanted to tell her how beautiful she was. He wanted to laugh with her, just for the hell of it. But he couldn't, because all he could think of were the words "my love."
My love. If she knew what those words did to him!
She reached out again to tug at a lock of his long, straight hair. "I like the hair," she said approvingly. "It's –"
"Longer." The word came out sharper than he had intended, making her draw back her hand quickly. "It has been millennia. Things change. You, I see, are in full bloom." He hoped he didn't sound as bitter as he was.
She shrugged. "I'm newly re-born." She gestured to the sea, her strength, and spread out her hands, tipping back her head. He hoped for a glimpse of her eyes beneath the glasses, wondered if she might remove them, or if he could snatch them – supposedly out of malice, of course… If only he could see them again, the colour of the ocean, azure and sparkling.
"I have new followers every day," she went on. "They sustain me." She looked out at the ocean. "As this sustains me. He may have stolen creation for His own ends, He may have given mortals dominion over the earth and seen them despoil it; dominion over the creatures upon it, and seen them destroyed; He may have taken the sky for his domain, and given the underworld to you.
"But the sea – it's still mine. Men still respect their harsh mistress; they cannot reach deep inside Her, they do not know her depths, they know not all her mysteries. She who is ruled by the most feminine of the heavenly bodies, the moon, whose cycle women live by."
"It's water," said the Devil disparagingly. "Salt water. Quite undrinkable. Rather polluted, in places. Useful for drowning people in."
"It's magnificent," she said, without anger. "And you know it." She dropped her arms and turned back to him, tipped the glasses as if she had read his mind, gave him the glance, a gaze that Medusa would have been proud of, except it was not intended to turn him to stone, but to throw him off guard, make him vulnerable, and in his vulnerability, be honest with her. Honesty from the Prince of Lies! "Are you expecting to pick up where we left off?"
Her outright question threw him and for a moment the Devil was actually lost for words.
"No," he managed at last. A lie. Half a lie. He hadn't expected the question, but part of him wanted it; he knew he couldn't have her back, knew it was impossible at least for the moment.
She nodded. "My followers love me," she began slowly, "Partly because I don't force upon them a stifling marriage of the sort you and yours favour." If it seemed a non sequitur, it would be explained in her own good time, he knew.
She licked delicately at her lips and went on, "There is freedom in my passion. There is healing, not pain. There is equality in place of obedience. There are choices, not rules. I offer much more to them, such treasures, such wisdom and yet most of all they still revel in love. They still crave it and long for it. They want it for eternity or if not forever then at least for a year, or a month, or a day. Love, for one day; you don't even have that, do you, Lucie?"
He blinked and looked away at the nickname. "I have no need of it."
"You haven't had it in a long time," she went on.
"That's where you're wrong." He faced her, triumphant.
She shook her head. "Sex. But not love."
"I told you I don't need it," he sneered. "I'm not some feeble mortal –"
"Hah!" She pursed her lips, hands on hips for one moment. "Then why do you want me?"
"Who says I do?" he challenged.
"You do." She smiled. "By being here." Then she shook her head. "On an professional level it would be inadvisable." She ran her long delicate fingers through her hair, smoothing the wind-ruffled locks. "After all that you have done to many who would be my Followers."
This threw him. "What?"
"I'm thinking particularly of Ashur."
He scowled. "She killed her daughter!"
She shrugged. "She was one of Asherah's followers, not really one of mine," she conceded. "An aspect of me, but not me." She inclined her head slightly. "But this anti-Pagan thing you've got going; it could be bad for me." Was he imagining it or did she sound just like him? The way he would taunt Ezekiel.
"I haven't got anything going," he protested. "I just know how things are. And I should know - I'm the one banished to hell, I'm the one getting all the bad press!"
"It could be good for me," she said suddenly. "The enemy of my enemy and so on. But deep down, I think you still love your God. You would be hard pushed to truly stand against Him. Still, together who knows what we could accomplish? You and me. Our offspring. Alone, we're barely strong enough, together –" She stopped and stared out to sea. "It doesn't matter. I'm not strong enough yet. Certainly not strong enough to take your rejection or betrayal."
"I wouldn't betray you." Where the hell did that come from? He shouldn't be here if he couldn't control himself, couldn't stop betraying himself with his words. It shouldn't hurt like it still did, nor should she be able to elicit anything from him, but here he was and here she was, interrogating him without questions, wounding him with her beauty and her complete lack of anger at him.
"You wouldn't betray me this time?" If she sounded unconvinced he couldn't blame her. Still no fury there but doubt and with good cause. There was no way to hide what he had said and done in the past and no way to reassure her that he wouldn't hurt her again. Truth told, he couldn't truly promise never to hurt her again. It seemed in his nature to hurt and humiliate those he could love.
So instead he shrugged and tried to change the subject. "All things considered, I was good to Ash. I was lenient. Accommodating. In fact, if I had been as strict as I should be, the hellbreak might never have happened!"
"Sex, sex, sex," she chided in frustration. "Not love, Lucifer. All your good deeds tainted by lust or done out of a desire to exert power, to command respect."
"Good deeds?" he spluttered. "For the love of… I'm the Devil!"
She shrugged. "If I were you, I'd think about begging for forgiveness. You know He would forgive you, if you went to him in sincere repentance."
His eyes flashed in anger. "I'm not ready to beg!"
"Then go it alone. But that's making you miserable." She snatched off the glasses and he wondered why he'd wanted to see her eyes, to see the fury and the power there, the angry flashes like lightening over storm tossed seas.
"You enjoy the tormenting," she told him. "You're always ready with a wisecrack. You like the dressing up –" She looked him up and down and added, with a wicked double entendre, "and the dressing down. You love to watch the sinners condemn themselves, the misguided worship you, the righteous living in fear. You thrive on it. But you're missing something. Someone."
The Devil looked down at the sand, at the shifting of the grains under the pull of the water. She was right. "I can't have you," he said finally, meeting her gaze again. She didn't look so menacing again now. All Mother and no Warrior, outwardly at least.
"No, you can't."
"I wouldn't have you back anyway," he muttered. "Did I ever tell you what a whiny little bitch you can be?"
She paid him no attention. "There are others."
"Others?" He hoped she wasn't going to start on the Triple Aspect thing again. One of her was quite enough.
"Yes. Others you can have."
"I can have whomever I like," the Devil said smugly.
"Is that so?" She replaced the glasses and tipped them up onto her head where they perched like an opaque butterfly. She smoothed out her clothing, serene, practical. "What about this man, Stone?"
The Devil's eyes narrowed in suspicion. "What do you know of him?"
"Word gets around. I know of the hellbreak you mentioned, I know of Stone. You lied to me once. Now you lie to him. You've told him you never loved anything or anyone but God. Yet I know how you used to look at me. And I know how you look at him."
The Devil refused to be lost for words again. "Stalking me, sweetheart?"
"Watching, my love." She grinned.
"You've got it all wrong," he began, knowing it was useless.
"You can deny it all you like. You can taunt him with thinly veiled sexual references and pretend they mean nothing. You can tell me, and you can tell yourself that Stone means nothing to you. But he does. Yet, here's the problem." She bent down and picked up a pebble, caressing it between her finger and thumb, its dark surface glistening with salt water. "If Stone captures all the damned souls and you give him redemption you'll lose him forever."
She tossed the pebble away. It splashed as it entered the water and she shrugged, clenched her fist, opened it to reveal the same pebble, still wet. The Devil was resolutely unimpressed with the parlour trick, but kept quiet so as to learn the moral of the story. "If, however, Stone sends all the souls back and you renege on the deal, send him back to hell …" She stretched her hand out toward him. He held out his own hand and she pressed the pebble into his palm, closing his hand around it. "He'll hate you." She spread her hands. "You'll still lose him." The Devil opened his hand. No surprise to find the pebble was missing.
"A dilemma," she said.
The Devil shrugged. "The rate he's going it'll be years before he sends them all back. I'll deal with it then."
She smiled. "So you admit you love him?" When she got a glare in response, she pushed, "Care for him? Just a little?"
Despite himself, he smiled. "Care? An emotional attachment, me? Well - maybe a little," he acknowledged begrudgingly, adding quickly to cover himself, "He amuses me. I'm going to teach him to sit up and beg next week."
"Aside from dog training," she said dryly, "you're just going to torment him? To haunt his dreams and content yourself with stalking him? Never letting him suspect you see him as anything other than your lapdog?"
"That's not your concern," he hissed, too angry, too obvious, but she was oh, too close for comfort.
"No, it isn't. But it doesn't mean I don't care." She reached for him. At first he was unyielding, but bittersweet memories and the thoughts of Ezekiel she'd put into his head melted his icy reserve. Ice wasn't really his thing anyway. He let her hold him, let himself hold her. "Just one," she whispered. "On the lips." So he bent his head and let his lips brush against hers. She held him to her, savouring it.
It was the Devil who pulled away first. "Good to see you again," he said briskly, as if she were an old acquaintance he'd never been fond of, or an annoying colleague he saw every day. "Try not to do me out of a job too soon, would you? I know your followers don't believe in me."
"Lucie," she called. "There might be ways you haven't even thought of. Remember that everything is connected to everything else. You, Me, the ocean, the sky, heaven, hell – Ezekiel –"
"Nonsense," he retorted, walking away.
"Hope," she returned, facing away from him and replacing the glasses, the sun reflecting off them as she stared across the horizon.
"False hope," the Devil grinned, "is one of my favourite emotions, snuggled alongside despair and right up there with unrequited love."
He disappeared. She waited there a few moments longer, watching the sun meet the restless ocean. Stalemate. For now, it would have to do.