Bittersweet seraphim, p.22
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       Bittersweet Seraphim, p.22

           Debra Anastasia
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  “That’s what happens when you have balls as big as mine.” Jack bit his lip and looked down his nose at her.

  She smiled.

  “You’re worth it,” he said simply.

  She turned to the crowd, which had finally focused on them. All eyes waited to see what they could possibly say: a fallen angel and a Devil who’d obviously fallen in love. She opened her mouth and had nothing. Not one thing came to her mind.

  Jack put his arm under her wing and rested it on her lower back. He leaned in and mumbled, “I’ve got this. Just stand tall.”

  “Minions and fucking fairies, please meet a one-of-a-kind being. She’s a seraph Devil. She defeated Everett.” A buzz rose as the minions realized their leader was indeed gone. It was as if they were rising from a drug-induced coma—and their sudden alertness was intimidating.

  Jack held up a hand, and the crowd quieted. Emma was just wowed by him. She loved how self-possessed he was. In control.

  “So, angels, you have a peer to listen to and respect. And minions? You have a leader to obey.” He leaned down as if listening to something Emma was telling him.

  “I’ve not a clue where the Hell you’re going with this,” she whispered, keeping her face neutral.

  He nodded as if she’d added something important. “Minions, you’re commanded by your Devil to return to your former positions in Hell as of right now. Any delay will increase your sentences and compulsions tenfold.”

  He leaned over and spoke out of the side of his mouth. “Good?”

  Emma nodded and pointed at the holes in the ground. There were some scuffles as the minions returned to their punishments, but Jack’s words were obeyed. And she was under no illusions: the minions were listening to her man. They nodded respectfully as they passed him.

  Emma followed Jack’s gaze up to where God and Lucifer still remained deep in conversation. Then Jack spoke again, and Emma listened because she was curious about what she was “saying” next.

  “Nero and Violent, remain on Earth for further instructions,” Jack announced. “Half-breeds, kneel.” Jack looked at Emma. She held out her hands and pressed them down as if directing the half-breeds’ heads. They knelt. “Seriana, Dean, Jason, Rebecca, Kate, and…Mine?” Seriana nodded her confirmation. “Emma wants you to stand aside.”

  He turned her face to his with his hands. “Okay, the minions I knew what to do with. The angels are your business.”

  Emma turned and looked at her peers. They gazed smugly at the half-breeds on their knees, as if that’s where they belonged, a peg lower than the celestial beings. Emma felt fury rise within her.

  “Angels, kneel.” There was a reprimand in her voice. She was no longer unsure of what to say. Her time with her half-breeds had changed her. Never would she think any less of another being, even if their ways were different. “Look at the souls next to you. They’re even with you, as it should be. Because you use God’s words against them does not make you better. It does not make you wiser. How dare you look down on God’s children? By exhibiting this discrimination, you make yourselves unworthy of the wings of which you are so proud.”

  She glanced up at God and saw his hand move slightly. When she turned back to look at the kneeling masses before her, she could find not a one with wings. She gasped along with them. The angels immediately began feeling behind them, looking for the missing symbols of their righteousness.

  Actually, one angel still had her wings, and Emma nodded and smiled at her. Claudette. “Please stand, sister. Come be with my friends.” Emma motioned for Claudette to join the siblings and others behind her and Jack.

  The angels began to grumble, clearly growing angry. Emma shook her head. “Oh no you don’t.” Silence immediately descended. “Do I have the power to remove wings? All at once like that?”

  She waited while it dawned on them. God was the author of their wing removal, so they piped down. Jack nodded encouragingly. Emma looked out over the crowd and saw one angel writhing in fury. Gabriel. He was ticked off, but he couldn’t rise because God was holding the angels in place. He tilted his head and snarled in Jack’s direction.

  Emma looked over to find Jack smoking yet another cigarette. He blew smoke in the shape of a hand giving Gabriel the finger.

  “Very mature.”

  Gabriel was now so angry he was vibrating. “You,” he hissed. “We came down to help you—to save you, and now we’re kneeing with the likes of them. You’re ungrateful and undeserving.” Gabriel’s handsome face looked ugly as he wore his contempt in a sneer.

  Emma spoke softly, her words just for the angel who’d passed judgment on her in Heaven. “Maybe I’m helping you now. To not see the worth of a soul is blindness a seraph can’t afford. I’ve learned that. You should too. But thank you for coming to my aid as soon as I had a set of wings.”

  Emma closed her eyes. She’d let a little bitterness slide out with that last statement, and she tried to rally her thoughts. She caught Jack looking into the opening to Hell.

  “What’s up?” She turned from the crowd and touched his tattooed chest.

  He looked down at her hand and back up at her. “Hell needs someone in charge. It gets crazy down there.” He covered her hand.

  As if his words had decided the battle above him, everyone’s attention was instantly turned skyward. Lucifer took to his knees in front of God. He inched closer and closer until he was at God’s sandals. A collective gasp floated up from Earth as the crowd watched Lucifer kiss God’s feet.

  Chapter 35

  Kate was grateful her father and Violent were a vocal twosome. They’d made it their job to explain things as they happened. The minions returning to Hell was a huge relief, as apparently they’d been on the verge of running wild. And the angels kneeling with minions would have been about as likely as ice catching on fire. Violent laughed dryly as she wondered aloud about the Heavenly force it must have taken to get them to kneel with the half-breeds. And yes, Lucifer had appeared, but this didn’t seem to mean he was the Devil. He and God were still deep in discussion, and at the moment it seemed Emma remained between Lucifer and his dark throne, if he finally decided he really wanted it.

  Despite the unrest, as Kate stood with Jason, who wouldn’t let go of her hand, and felt her father’s hand on her shoulder without any shaking, she was the happiest she’d ever been. She even felt happy for Jack, who seemed a whole lot less like an asshole with Emma next to him.

  When Lucifer kneeled before God, Kate had a stunning thought. She scanned the faces of the crowd, looking for one in particular. When she saw her mother, she looked so healthy Kate hardly recognized her. Then Jenny smiled, her eyes sparkling. In that moment, the child in Kate cried out to be held, and her desperate need for her mother’s love came rushing back. Kate tried to run, to get to her, but her feet were fixed, her knees on the ground. She clutched her father’s hand without taking her eyes off her mother. “Dad, do you see her? Do you see her?”

  Kate watched as her mother changed her focus and gasped. She could read her lips clearly: “Nero.” Tears wet Jenny’s cheeks.

  Nero’s voice was so small and full of tenderness. “Jenny. My Jenny.”

  Kate looked closely at her mother’s outfit. Jenny was missing her wings, as all the angels were, but the soft white gown and glittering hair gave her away. Jenny had come from Heaven. Her father gripped her shoulder, his prayer whispered out loud. “Oh please, let me go to her. Please.”

  With everyone’s attention on the groveling Lucifer, Jenny stood, somehow released from her forced bow. Kate gasped, realizing God must have heard her father’s prayer—and her own heart’s dearest wish. Kate waved at her mother, begging her closer with her hands.

  “Please.” Kate added her own prayer to her father’s.

  Jenny began to run, and Kate could hear her sobbing their names as she ran angel fast. Yet the time seemed endless, and Kate was so scared the world would change, that something would happen to her mother before she could get to the

  But Jenny skirted the rocks and grabbed Kate so hard it hurt. “Baby, baby, baby. My beautiful baby.” Kate gave up everything in her mother’s arms.

  “Mommy!” She broke down completely, gasping sobs that sounded like torture instead of happiness.

  Her mother touched her back, her hair, her face, kissing her again and again.

  “My girls.” Nero’s voice was so proud, it sounded as if he were commanding an army instead of watching two women he adored.

  Jenny reached a hand out to him as if she were drowning and pulled him closer. Then Kate could finally stagger, her feet free. Nero’s huge arms engulfed them both. Family. Kate had her family.

  Lucifer kissed God’s feet in a full-on grovel. He wanted to make things better.

  “Stand, Lucifer.”

  He did as he was told, noticing that the minions below him had drained from the field like water from a tub. All that remained were the angels, sans wings, and the muted half-breeds.

  “Here is what I ask of you: Run Hell. Learn from your predecessors—the ones who earned respect. Know that my children dwell in all the levels of the world. Can you do that, Lucifer?” God waited.

  Lucifer knew God, even after all these years—the way He held his shoulders, the tone of His voice when He meant business. Right now He meant business. But God asked too much. Lucifer wanted a pardon from Hell. He wanted out. He also knew better than to ask. God’s word was law, and really, by offering him Hell again, God was giving him an extension on the End of Time, when everything in Hell was supposed to be reduced to formless awareness.

  “I accept, my Lord. I will run Hell.” Lucifer’s voice held no pride, and very little resolve, as the task was set before him again. But he didn’t have it in him to fight anymore.

  God nodded. “Let us go below and make it known.”

  Lucifer bowed his head. Inside he felt restless and unfulfilled.

  Jack stood riveted as his former shoveling minion was made whole by the women he loved. He wiped a tear, trying to pass it off like he had a bug in his eye. The crowd all around them now watched this most unlikely reunion, and Emma was flat-out weeping happy tears, her wings tinged with gold.

  He looked at Violent and found her purple eyes glowing. He watched her face as she put it together. Then she began to struggle. When she could finally move, he knew she’d freed herself from her fixed place on the ground using sheer love. God had allowed Violent to move as well. She scaled the rock he and Emma stood on and pushed them aside.

  She scanned the crowd, whispering at first. “Giovanni?” She moved to shouting as her desperation grew.

  Jack looked out on the crowd. There was one angel way in the back working diligently at tugging himself to his feet. Jack tapped Violent and pointed him out. “That your guy?”

  She nodded and slipped down from the rock, her eyes never leaving the angel. She moved toward him as if afraid he’d disappear.

  Jack smiled as he realized the man she was desperate for was small and unremarkable—not much like the ruggedly handsome Dean at all. But he was clearly as desperate as she. Both walked until they got close enough to run. Then they did, clumsily, stumbling and tripping over the half-breeds and angels on their knees. Finally they were within arm’s reach.

  He spoke first in thickly accented English. “Thousands of years, my love.”

  She returned the sentiment in his own language. “Migliaia di anni, amore mio.”

  Instead of a hug, he bowed. Violent moved like a dream as she curtsied. Giovanni began singing softly as he stepped toward her, pulling her into an old-world dance. She mouthed the words with him, but let his lovely singing voice carry. The song was one of deep love. They danced in the small space they had, and in his white angel’s garb, with every step and every word, Giovanni became more beautiful. More spectacular.

  Jack turned to Emma. “Look at that. Never thought I’d see V so happy. Amazing.”

  She seemed to have a hard time looking at him, and when she did, she had tears brimming. “I’m going to have to run Hell, aren’t I?”

  He shook his head. “No, sweetheart, Lucifer’s gonna man up. You watch.” He pulled her closer, her wing covering his shoulders.

  Maybe it was a false sense of security, but with all the love cropping up around them, Jack couldn’t imagine he’d ever be without her again. He watched Giovanni dip Violent dramatically, then kiss her sweetly.

  After God’s command, Lucifer flew, and God simply rematerialized on Earth. God’s presence brought all to their knees, even those no longer forced to be there.

  After a few moments Emma felt God’s attention and lifted her eyes. He motioned for her and she pulled Jack along as she came. She didn’t use her wings, not wanting to add insult to injury for all the angels around her that were without.

  “My sweet. So you’re the Devil Seraph now? That’s quite a title.” God smiled a bit.

  Emma shrugged, unsure what to say. Lucifer looked fairly tame, and the minions were back where they belonged—well, most of them anyway—but there were a lot of loose ends to tie up before God left.

  “Children, I’ve already interfered too much,” He said. “I can’t choose your destinies without restricting your free will. I leave you to settle your differences. Know that I love you.”

  God was gone so quickly, it was as if all the air had been sucked right out of the atmosphere.

  Jack instantly furious. “Now he leaves? For crap’s sake. That solves nothing. No fucking thing. Come back! Come back!” He shouted into the dark night.

  Emma touched his arm. “Hey, it’s okay. It’ll work out.” The peace she’d been given in the pause with God still encircled her.

  “Really? What about the angels’ wings? And Nero and Violent? And big ol’ Lucy here?” Jack held out a hand to Emma. “Fuck it. We’re blowing this joint. I’m not hanging around.” He was insistent.

  But Lucifer’s voice stopped Jack. “I’m not in charge of Hell—yet,” he said. “I do believe I have to lay a challenge at the feet of the current Devil.”

  “No. You’re the ultimate Devil,” Jack snapped. “The position is yours whenever you want it.” Jack pulled Emma behind him.

  Then Lucifer’s voice became a million men screaming at once again. “I groveled at God’s feet, and yet I have to earn my role as the leader of the worst place. That’s the rule, right? And unless something’s changed, that starts with your girlfriend. I do believe I’ll tear her apart.”

  Emma felt the ice-cold IV drip of fear slide through her veins. God left? How could He leave her now when she was so close to happiness? This couldn’t happen. Not here. Maybe Lucifer didn’t know what power she had in this maybe-transitional phase. Who was she, anyway?

  She used the seconds before the fight as best she could. “Half-breeds and remaining minions, I command you to run as fast as your legs can carry you. Angels wings, return. Fly to Heaven.” She watched as a swarm of bodies that included Dean, Violent, Seriana, Jason, Kate, and Nero—all those she’d come to care about—bolted from the scene as the angels took off for Heaven.

  Her next command, for Jack to leave as well, was swept away with her breath as Lucifer grabbed her wings and swung her into the sky. It was disorienting to see the stars and Earth twirling so violently. When she was finally righted, she was face to face with the first fallen angel. She gulped down her tremendous fear. Lucifer’s eyes danced with flame, and his red skin pulsated with thick veins just beneath the surface. Almost everything about him conveyed movement, unease, unrest. The power within him was a hurricane, trapped and barely contained. And as he reached for her, Emma realized that compared to what lay ahead, her tussle with Everett had been like parlor tricks. Facing off with Lucifer would be like trying to push over a skyscraper, but she had no choice. She’d go down fighting no matter how brief the battle. She owed it to Jack and to God. And to herself.

  Chapter 36

  Jack was alone and screaming when he saw Emma’s life begin to be squeez
ed from her. Something had gone incredibly wrong. Horribly wrong. Jack looked around, but there was no one. No angels, no half-breeds, no friends. He screamed for the dragon, he screamed for God, but before his eyes Emma went limp. He still had hope, even when her head lolled at an impossible angle. Even when Lucifer let go and Emma fell.

  Jack rushed to get underneath her. He could catch her. But she was going so fast. Emma transformed into what looked like a falling star before she got to his arms, and Jack was impossibly stunned when instead of an armful of angel, he felt pieces of white-hot rainbow scatter around him. Some fell on his outstretched arms, and Jack hugged the pieces to him. They scorched his chest, burning his tattoo of her name.

  Lucifer landed with a thud, seething.

  Jack stood and raised reluctant eyes to the massive killing machine. “What changed?”

  The synchronized chant bled from the Devil’s mouth. “I told God I’d run Hell. I needed to make sure my path was clear. That foolish girl could never have lived that life. It was a gift to her.”

  Jack swayed as Lucifer brushed past him, and his leather jacket caught fire. He didn’t brush at the flames. He let them engulf him. Before Lucifer could crawl back into his home, Jack uttered the only sentence he could think of: “I formally challenge you to a battle to the death.” Things had happened fast, but Jack’s heart told him unequivocally that it should only beat when Emma was around. “This is a winner’s crusade to become the Devil.”

  He looked at his feet as he felt the flames reach his back. Without her, there was nothing. He would be nothing. There was no point. As Lucifer stalked over to end him, Jack closed his eyes and let his energy dissipate out into the universe.

  Violent stood in the shadows, watching as Jack ceased to exist. He didn’t even fight, and she didn’t blame him. Having the love you’d been reunited with so briefly disappear into thin air made a being numb.

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