Bittersweet seraphim, p.21
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       Bittersweet Seraphim, p.21

           Debra Anastasia
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  All watched as the huge red beast beat the sky with its wings, moving toward a very small-looking, human-sized God. Jason felt Kate squeeze his hand and eagerly sought her eyes. How amazing to see her again.

  She raised an eyebrow and whispered, “While everybody’s distracted let’s go get your mom.”

  Dean and Violent stepped closer, as did Seriana and Mine.

  Violent turned to Nero and hopped on his back. At first he fought, instinctively, but she shushed him with a petting hand while she scanned the frozen battlefield. “I see him. He’s scurrying back toward the entrance to Hell, dragging your mother like a dog.”

  Jason and his siblings instantly trained their eyes in the direction of Violent’s gaze. Jason bobbed and weaved, trying to sprint, but he had to settle for fast jog-walking along a winding path. Kate stayed right at his side. The frozen bystanders around him, all eyes glued to the sky, were obstacles. Most barely registered his presence. Seeing the former Devil and a seraph kissing like they were playing patty cake with their tonsils was quite riveting.

  He heard the scuffles behind him and soon saw Violent, Nero, and Mine pushing their way through as the crow flies. Jason got behind them as they passed and followed their path. He held out his glowing palm to Kate, and she joined hers with his.

  Dean and Seriana joined the other minions in relocating those in their way, angel and minion alike, and finally they were back at the exit Emma had created when she shot out of Hell and dared Everett to follow. Since the dragon had ripped his way through behind her, it now looked like a seething, angry mouth yawning open in the earth. Vittorio arrived just after they did, dragging an unresponsive Rebecca, chained by the neck on a metal leash. He was missing his army. The show above must have captivated them, along with everyone else, and they’d mixed in with the crowd. He looked old, but he rallied when he saw them.

  “Look at this! Grandchildren, plus my monster, the gorgeous minion, and another. We could really do some damage if we team up.” He pulled Rebecca to her feet. “Your mother? You want her? Come with me. We will rule Hell. Can’t you feel the power calling?”

  Rebecca staggered and got her feet under her. Jason watched as Dean inched around the mouth of the hole, rocks crumbling into the abyss. He saw the glint in his mother’s eyes before she acted, but it wasn’t enough time to warn anyone. Rebecca pushed their grandfather into Hell, and chained to him, she plummeted as well. Her children screamed in horror, drawing the attention of the crowd around them. Seriana tried to dive in after her, but Mine prevented her.

  The breeze turned into a whirlwind as a white shooting star careened past them. Moments later the smell of angel cake filled the air as Emma fluttered to the surface, cradling their mother like a doll. She hovered like a hummingbird as she ran a healing hand over Rebecca. “You raised three beautiful children. Mothers are precious,” she whispered softly. Then she landed next to Jason and passed his mother into his arms. Seriana and Dean joined the embrace.

  Their happy tears seemed to repel some of the gawking minions, who shifted away from them before they resumed their vigil of watching Lucifer. Emma was gone before Jason could thank her, flying back up to where she’d left Jack.

  Chapter 33

  Everett stared at God’s feet. Lucifer stood over him like he was a doormat covered in shit. He was screwed, and to top it all off, Emma was fluttering around like a prom queen high on a crack pipe full of happiness. Bitch. She’d prayed for him in front of God—such a suck up. He’d been to Heaven and Hell to find her ass. And now he was groveling like a slug. He’d sell his soul for another chance at her.

  God looked down. “You already did, son,” He said, responding to the thoughts Everett had believed were private. He then resumed His conversation with the giant red beast.

  Everett watched as Emma took a quick detour to save the day down below. She pulled a stupid half-breed out of the ground before coming back up to gaze adoringly at Jack. Everett looked away and noticed the conversation above him had stopped. The scene became a picture instead of a living, breathing world. Everett knew then he was in a pause with God. He stayed on the ground.

  “Stand.” God was seriously ticked.

  Everett crawled out from underneath Lucifer. This “battle” was a farce. He could see that now. God was humoring them. It could all be over with a snap of His fingers.

  “If I fixed everything like that, there’d be no point in free will.” God crossed his arms in front of his chest.

  “Um. I, ah, would like to be on Lucifer’s side. So, this is sort of inappropriate—consorting with the enemy.” Everett shuffled his feet.

  “If I’m your enemy, Everett, you never learned. Plead your case. Tell me your side. I’d like to hear what you say.”

  God hadn’t whisked them somewhere new. Everett could still see the motionless Emma staring into the eyes of a pleased Jack. It burned him.

  “I wanted her,” he spat. “She was supposed to be mine. Everything I did was to get her where she belonged.” He stepped in her direction. She wouldn’t move, so he could at least touch her hair…

  “You will not.” God didn’t move, but Everett knew the tone. “Sometimes a soul can grow into the apology they offer,” He continued. “That was my hope for you. But it didn’t happen. Your regret when you were admitted to Heaven did not blossom into a better soul.”

  “So I’m your mistake? Is that what you’re saying?” Everett felt a little hot under the collar. Arguing with God was a rush. There was a gripping silence as he wondered what was next.

  “My child, I always assume the best of my creations. Sometimes they chose repeatedly to be less. These things were your choice.” God’s jaw tensed.

  “Forgive those who trespass against us. Those are Your words. Do you not stand behind them?” Everett stood taller. He loved loopholes.

  “They are. They roll off your tongue effortlessly but find no foothold in your heart. I have forgiven you, Everett, but that is not a free pass to continue to make evil choices. There must be a reckoning for the effect you’ve had on the world, on all those you’ve come in contact with. Are you ready to receive the bounty you’ve earned?” God didn’t look angry anymore. He looked sad.

  “No. No. No. Not today, okay? You need someone to run Hell. I’ll be that man.” Everett dropped to his knees and crawled to God’s feet.

  His maker crouched and placed a hand on his back. “I wanted more for you, my son. And I do love you, despite what’s next. In the time I’m giving you, I hope you’ll come to understand that.”

  Everett kept his head down because this sounded promising. He thought for a minute about the effect he’d had on those around him. Flash after flash of pain came to the surface of his memories: the animals he’d tortured and killed, his mother, Emma’s Sam, Emma. Oh God.

  Then he was dissolving, crumbling away like ash, his soul showing its true worth. Everett screamed as he began reaping what he’d sown.

  Jack held her close. His Emma was smiling, seemingly oblivious to Lucifer glowering at God behind her. Then he noticed a key player was missing: Everett. Jack pulled Emma closer and scoured the sky for the evil bastard.

  She whispered to him, just behind his ear. “No. He’s gone. God took him in a pause.”

  Jack nodded, unsure how she knew, but trusting her. Then he returned his focus to the matter at hand. Lucifer was a big, freaking, butt-hurt idiot. His meandering complaints against God were nothing but jealousy.

  “Can we leave? Can we bust out of here?” Jack wanted Emma far from the red beast. It kept eyeing her wings like she was a snack. Even with God right in front of him, Jack wanted to protect Emma.

  “You may,” God responded before Emma had a chance.

  Emma hugged him to her and took off, circling in a high arc before plunging toward Earth. She landed softly among the angels and minions, and he felt the ground form under his feet.

  “I just want to check on the others,” she said. She pulled him by the hand as they threade
d through the crowd to find the half-breeds and minions that had been their travel companions.

  Various minions nodded respectfully at Jack as he passed. He tried to return their greetings, but there were just too many.

  Emma picked up her pace as she spotted the group she was looking for. Coming up behind her, she touched Seriana’s shoulder, and the half-breed jumped at her.

  “Thank you! Thank you for rescuing Mom,” Seriana cried. “I’m so happy you’re here!”

  Emma petted the woman’s back, whispering prayers that fell like a veil all around her. “You did all of this,” she said aloud, taking a moment to look at each sibling. “You found your mother and refused to give up. You were willing to find me? To deal with him?” She pointed at Jack and smiled. “I’m honored to know such brave souls.” She stammered a bit before adding, “To love you.”

  Jack felt the pinch of jealousy, but he tried to ignore it. It was how his girl was. Dean and Jason hugged Emma, and then Dean spoke for them all. “We’re so glad you’re safe. Mom too.”

  Rebecca came tentatively forward and held out her hand. She showed no signs of her years of imprisonment. Emma’s healing work had been flawless. “I’ve never met an angel before,” she said, eyes wide.

  Emma nodded. “You have. These kids of yours, for sure.”

  Jason touched her shoulder and Emma rubbed his arm, giving him her full attention.

  “Kate was able to bring Nero out of Hell. Do you know what’s going on? Should we leave?”

  Jack tucked his hands into the pockets of his leather jacket, looking for a smoke. The minions and angels close by seemed to lean in their direction, listening. Claudette fluttered down next to the group, offering him one of his favorite hand-rolled smokes and a lighter. He waggled his eyebrows in thanks but didn’t miss Emma’s disapproving glance. He motioned to the battle above them and the giant mixer of creatures before lighting up. There were other things to worry about just now.

  “Can you leave?” Emma asked. “It seems we’re all rooted here—held by one or the other of them.” She looked up at God and Lucifer. There was a decided lack of fireworks and explosions now. Just two supernatural beings in heated confrontation.

  “I must be here,” Nero confirmed. “I know it from a part that isn’t my mind.” Violent nodded as well.

  “The angels are tethered,” Claudette added. “We’d never leave God unprotected anyway.”

  “Looks like we’re fucked,” Jack said. “’Cause this crew is going to get colorful depending on how that up there ends. God may be planning to win, or He may not…” He swallowed hard. Technically, with Everett vamoosed, Emma was the Devil in angel’s clothes, unless Lucifer was ready to strap on some balls. And fighter or no, he couldn’t think of a being less prepared to run Hell than the sweet, kind girl in front of him.

  Lucifer wasn’t sure how he wanted this confrontation to end. He was furious at God. He’d spent entire civilizations-worth of time underground, hiding in a hovel underwater. Because of Him.

  God’s patient face tortured him with its unchanged familiarity. For so many years they’d been friends. He raged that God could forget about all those times.

  “You know I’d never forget, Lucifer.”

  He growled. He wanted his thoughts private. He lashed out at God. “You changed. The pressure of this getting so big made You so important,” he yelled, gesturing wildly at the world around them. “You didn’t have time for me!”

  God glanced at the crowds below before responding. “I didn’t have time for you like you wished. That’s true. I also thought you’d see my responsibilities and help, not plot against me.”

  “You aren’t the only one who can do this job,” Lucifer snapped. “And you know I could handle it.” He flapped his leathery wings.

  “You actually proved to me you could handle none of it. And you taught me not to trust even the most devoted angel.” God leveled His stare at him.

  Despite his anger, he wanted to hug God. Now that they were face to face, the need of it crushed him. He hung onto the worst of his grievances so he could stay tough.

  “Has being tough made you any less lonely, friend?” God shook his head sadly.

  “Don’t call me friend. Don’t you do it!” Lucifer shrieked. The word friend had sounded condescending in God’s mouth.

  God said nothing, waiting him out, and the time broke him. Mere seconds grated on him when he’d had millennia of practice ignoring things.

  “We’re not friends,” he declared. “You wouldn’t come to me. Our friendship meant so little to you that it was left to rot—like me.” Lucifer turned his back on God because he was afraid his eyes would fill with tears.

  “I came to Hell to meet with the Devil regularly. But that was never you, as it should’ve been. If you’d done your job, I would’ve been with you in your lair, hearing your issues and working things out.”

  Lucifer knew it was true. Being thick-headed wouldn’t win this battle. “I wanted to mean more to you than that,” he confessed. “I wanted you to find me.”

  “That’s a selfish answer. And after all this time I see that’s what spurred you—not our perceived friendship.” God sounded bored.

  Lucifer whirled around, swirling his wings and steaming the very air they touched. “After all this time you insult me? I guess an apology is too much for you too.” Lucifer’s blood boiled.

  “Did you once seek me out, Lucifer? Did you ever wonder if I missed you? What happened when I had to deal with the world’s problems without my best friend as a confidant? No. You didn’t worry about me because you were too busy hiding your tail between your legs.”

  Lucifer was stunned. Hearing anger from God was amazing. God had missed him. He’d not put himself in God’s shoes. Not once in all that time.

  “No. Instead of finding me and apologizing for trying to take over my Heaven, you hid.” God drew closer, power coming off Him like lightning. “A real friend doesn’t do that.”

  Lucifer felt as if he’d turned to stone. The scales fell from his proverbial eyes. He’d been wrong, too blind to see beyond himself. What God wanted was simple, and it was real. Perhaps they could have been partners, continued being friends, if he’d just done as God commanded.

  It seemed like forever just standing there. He watched God as God watched him. The crowd below grew restless. Could he possibly be forgiven? Did he want this friendship after all this time?

  Chapter 34

  “It’s you.”

  Emma turned as Jack spoke to her in his sweet, sexy voice. She heard him clearly despite the chaos of minions, angels, and half-breeds around them. She’d been so certain they’d never be together again. To touch his hand was a gift.

  “And it’s you,” she responded, but she was perplexed as he didn’t smile.

  “We’ve got to get you out of here. We’ll fly. Let’s go.” Jack grabbed her around the waist and looked at her expectantly.

  “Jack, I have to stay here. Wings and such, you know—I need to be here for God.” She fluttered her wings in his face to remind him.

  His voice tickled her ear as he spoke. “No, pretty child, it’s you. You’re the Devil. You defeated Everett. So any of the minions can take you on for the power.”

  Emma swallowed hard as she realized what he meant. “I did? I mean, God really…” She put her arms around his neck and closed her wings around them like a clamshell, creating some privacy.

  “You accepted the last challenge,” Jack said with a shrug. “You’re the one left. You won. Do you feel different?”

  Emma took a deep breath. “I don’t feel different. I mean, other than the angel stuff.” It was dark in her wings, so she let some of her feathers glow, throwing soft light on Jack’s face. She traced his high cheekbones.

  He rested his head against her palm and closed his eyes before speaking. “I love you. So you know.” He opened his deep brown eyes.

  Emma willed this little cocoon to be their own world.

“You smell like sunshine.” He buried his head in her hair, and she heard him inhaling.

  She slipped the cigarette from his hand, dropped it, and pressed her sandal over it.

  His eyes had a hint of mischief. “Really, angel? You’re so stubborn.”

  She wrinkled her nose and hugged him. She put her head on his shoulder and parted her feathers a bit so they could see out. The crowd was restless. Instead of looking up at the sky, they were shuffling and bumping into each other now. Jack, however, was focused on God and Lucifer.

  “This is going to get ugly,” he said. “I’m surprised God hasn’t intervened.”

  A chill went down Emma’s back. If she was the Devil, she was in charge of the minions and their safety—and the evil they would wreak on Earth. Surely Lucifer was making Hell’s decisions?

  As they watched, a minion turned to face the angel next to him. There was anger and a hunger in his eyes.

  “Jack?” She pointed to the brewing emotions among the polar opposites.

  He exhaled loudly. “I guess we’re doing something. Get us up high. I’ll help with the minions.”

  Emma unfurled her wings and took Jack with her. She landed them both on a tall outcrop of rocks.

  “Excuse me? Minions?” Her voice sounded tiny in the huge expanse of nature. From this vantage point she could see there were thousands of them, and angel wings threaded through the crowd like checkers. Jack winked at her, even though he looked nervous, then unleashed a loud wolf whistle. It was louder than it should’ve been from a human. Emma looked at him questioningly. The whistle was continued on the ground. Seriana and Jason had added their own.

  “We all got a hit of power from Lucy,” Jack explained, pointing at the sky.

  She’d hoped the two main players up above would ease up and help out, but they showed no signs of slowing down.

  “You call him Lucy?” She rolled her eyes at his audacity.

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