Authors note: This was a story I wrote ages ago and recently found again. I thought, what the heck. Feedback welcome.
Damian relaxed slightly but couldn't shake the feeling of trepidation as he and his angel flew down the empty highway. Thoughts of his angel elicited a genuine smile. She wasn't an angel, of course, any more than he was. She could have been, he thought guiltily. She should have been. She had given it up to come with him, and he'd never quite been able to make sense of it.
Mile after long mile lay before and behind them. On their twin motorcycles, cobbled together from spare parts, they rode aimlessly. Damian loved the motorcycles; they represented something important to him. He and Selina had worked together to build them, because she had refused to believe that the fight was over. Initially depressed on their arrival, Damian had been ready to surrender to everything and anything that came across their paths. Selina had said no. Purgatory it might be, but hope must never be lost. Or else it was no longer Purgatory but Hell.
They had talked while building the bikes. About each other, about their pasts, about whatever hopes and dreams they may have had. Damian had confessed his hatred of his alcoholic parents who had cared more for their booze than for him and his sisters. He told Selina about being locked out of the house so they couldn't disturb his mother while she snored in front of her soap operas.
Determined not to be beaten, he had gone to the neighbors for food for himself and May and Elisa innumerable times. When there was no other choice, he stole. The scar on his right temple was the result of a fight between Damian and a much larger boy when the former was about thirteen. Damian, incensed by the boy's insults to his sisters, had launched himself upon him. After flinging his attacker off, the boy had pulled out a small knife. Some teachers had separated them, but not before Damian had given the boy two black eyes and received a gash himself.
That, Damian told her, had taught him that loyalty was the only quality worth anything in the world, and that it was hard to come by. No one had joined him in that fight, not one of those who had claimed to be a friend. None had offered an apology, or even an explanation. In the few years following the encounter, Damian had demanded loyalty from his acquaintances—and offered it. The one person who had truly understood him was Jim. Or had he? Were it not for Jim, he and Selina might not be here now. She might have her wings.
Selina watched Damian as he rode in front of her, his broad shoulders visibly tense. She drank in his form as he sat with back straight, his long legs comfortably braced against the footrests. No doubt his piercing gray eyes were fixed on the horizon. The wind pushed his dark brown hair back from his face, exposing the slightly tan, angular face. They didn't wear helmets; what was the point?
Looking around, Selina noted that the flat, barren landscape had a stark beauty all its own. The few trees they saw were bare of leaves. Patches of grass invaded the stony ground here and there. There were no animals. It was haunting. It inspired awe, but not any sense of happiness. Would either of them ever be happy? she wondered. She considered herself happy because she was with Damian, but was there more? What would it be like to be together on their own, instead of feeling all the time that they were being watched?
She brought her attention back to the road. Damian had slowed and hit the blinker. Selina turned hers on and flashed her headlight.
Catching the light, Damian realized that he had not expected the confirmation. He had assumed that she would follow him. Had she not responded, and had something happened to her, he would not have noticed until it was much too late. It wasn't right, he thought to himself, that he should take her for granted like that. She had proven herself an unexpected ally and later a true friend. For all that and more, he loved her. He would tell her so when they stopped, if only to remind himself.
They found a secluded area at the foot of a mountain, not far from the road. Unpacking the gear they had managed to scavenge on their travels, they set up a small tent and sleeping bags and a couple of blankets. Inside, they both sat on the sleeping bags and began to shuck off layers of clothing. Purgatory was an odd place, with extremes of hot and cold, and all the temperatures in between. Damian quickly shed his jacket and reached to help Selina with hers.
"What brought on this act of chivalry?" Selina asked with a tentative smile. For a moment, Damian said nothing, just slid his arms around her and held her tightly.
"Selina." His voice was hoarse. "I ... I'm sorry ... I love you so much." Much to his surprise, he was choked with emotion, and buried his face in her long blonde hair.
Surprised, Selina remained quiet, leaning back against him and covering his hands with her own. Gently, she said, "What, Damian? You're sorry that you love me?"
"Oh, no, never." He released her so that he could move to face her and found himself staring at her eyes. They were a deep green, the most beautiful he'd ever seen. In her finely drawn face, they were easily the dominant feature. "It's just that I realized earlier, when we were turning off the road, that I take you for granted. It isn't right." He pulled her close again. "Sometimes I'm surprised that you came with me, but I'm always so glad that you did."
He kissed her deeply. Selina matched him all the way. At last she pulled away to ask, "Wouldn't it be more comfortable if we were lying down?" with a sly smile. Damian laughed and fell backward, pulling her with him.
They managed to shuffle off the rest of their clothes and burrow into the covers, their bodies the only source of heat in a cold world.
Damian whispered words of love as he kissed her lips and her neck. He sighed as her hands moved over his body, drawing him as close as possible. He took her hands in his to still them, and lowered his lips to her breasts, making her gasp. "Please, Damian, please," she murmured.
When he released her hands, she stroked his arms and sides while he slid his hands further down her body. He groaned when he found her ready for him. Forcing himself to wait longer, he gently brought her to climax with his hand. Urged on by her cries, he moved over her and slid inside her, biting his lip against the pleasure.
They made love as long as they could, shutting out the past and postponing tomorrow as the world became only them.
"Selina?" he said softly. It was pitch black both inside the tent and out. Sometimes he felt more comfortable talking when he didn't have to see the expression on her face. He feared seeing regret.
"Mmmm?" she answered. She lay with her head on his shoulder, holding his free hand. His other arm snaked around her shoulders, keeping her close.
"Selina, why did you do it?" Although he tried to sound casual, his emotions ran wild as he awaited her answer.
"I've told you before. It was wrong. I decided that even if it was too late, I had to say something ... do something. After all, that's what you were doing."
"But wouldn't you have done something similar later? Wouldn't you have noticed another situation and acted the same way?"
"I don't know. I don't think so." Selina paused. "If you hadn't caught their attention, there wouldn't have been any reason for me, or anyone else, to jump in. There wouldn't have been anything to notice."
Damian arrived in Transition and immediately caused a controversy. He hadn't intended it that way. He had, in fact, been stunned nearly speechless when he had come to Transition not long after Jim. Jim, who had jumped off the cliff as if he could fly while Damian watched. Hurt and betrayed, Damian had drunk himself blind and driven his motorcycle straight into the side of a truck.
He now found himself at the trident of the afterlife. There were three doors, all black, standing out against the white that rose to a point he couldn't see and merged with the white under his feet, forming the room in which he found himself. He was standing in a line of people. In front of the line were three black paths. Each person was directed to one of the paths by a faceless, robed ... person? He assumed they were people; they looked human enough. Most people were directed to the leftmost door.
He spied Jim in front of him in the line, only three or four people separating them. He wanted to cut ahead, but somehow he couldn't. The atmosphere of the place forbade such an action. So he stood still, listening carefully. All the anger was gone. Jim had not meant to betray him. Jim had just looked around at his world and saw no reason to go on. Damian understood. He had come so close himself, so many times.
Damian watched as Jim, wearing the same jeans, t-shirt and sneakers as the last time Damian had seen him, stepped up to the front of the line to receive direction. Damian had to strain to hear the word, "Hell." Before he knew what he was doing, he stepped out of line and called, "Wait! Send me with him."
All heads in the place turned to him, including those about to pass through the doors. A blonde-haired woman, about to pass into Purgatory, stopped and stepped back to watch when the astonishing request was made.
"Send me with him," Damian repeated to the faceless, hooded figure who now stood before him. "He's my friend, I won't let him go alone." He glanced at Jim. Jim stood, speechless, his hand digging into his mop of black hair. His features were taut with anger, or perhaps fear; Damian couldn't tell which.
The request drew a variety of reactions. Those in charge of Purgatory urged the Transition authorities to review the Law. Hell laughed uproariously and offered both Damian and Jim its finest accommodations. Heaven remained quiet, preferring to refrain from issuing a verdict until the Law had been reviewed. A buzz of conversation made its way among those waiting in Transition, wondering at their temporary reprieve and giving odds on the possible decisions.
The situation calmed down a bit when the Transition authorities returned from the Law. There was nothing, they said, that covered such a situation in the Law. It had never happened before.
Purgatory immediately declared itself neutral. Hell once more eagerly offered "sanctuary" to the two of them. This was not surprising, but Heaven had shocked everyone.
Exercise of free will, the Heavenly Representative—an Angel—had stated, was held in extremely high regard. After all, it was the ultimate gift bestowed by the Creator upon the Created. Therefore, if Damian wished to accompany his friend to Hell, the request would not be denied. But there could be no turning back. By choosing Hell, Damian would cost himself any chance of ever entering Heaven.
"How can you?" Her voice was choked with fury as she directed the accusation toward the Angel. She stalked from the door to Purgatory and stood facing him. "How can you?"
To Selina, this was the ultimate horror. To find out that there was a time when the sacrifices didn't matter anymore, after those that she had seen people make, nearly made her ill. Suppose it stopped before Transition? How long had people been leading good lives after it no longer made a difference?
"I do not understand," said the Angel.
"This man," she pointed to Damian, "has offered to sacrifice his chance of Heaven to stay with his friend. He has put his friend's happiness before his own salvation. For this, you offer him suffering and damnation? You punish his effort instead of rewarding it? Is it true that no good deed goes unpunished?" Her green eyes sparkled in the otherworldly illumination of Transition.
"You are incorrect," the Angel told her. Damian was entranced by the Angel's wings. They were huge—he estimated the wingspan to be forty feet or more—and the white was so soft it nearly hurt to look at them. Damian imagined how this strange, beautiful girl—a most unexpected but welcome ally—would look with wings. Mesmerized by the picture in his mind, he wanted to cry out to her to stop, to go to Purgatory so that she might eventually enter Heaven and receive wings. The spectacle of her confronting the Angel left him mute.
"Heaven must be chosen," the Angel told Selina gently, like a teacher reminding a student of a basic principle. "If he wishes to choose Hell instead, he may."
"He didn't choose Hell," Selina countered. "He chose to go with his friend, so that he wouldn't be alone."
"And his friend has been directed to Hell," the Angel said with finality. "That is the decision."
"Then I make the same decision!" Selina was defiant. "I will go with them."
"Do not be hasty," the Angel warned. His voice was less patient than before. "This choice is more permanent than you can possibly imagine. At least Purgatory is only temporary; after your penance, you will be welcomed to Heaven."
"No!" Damian found his voice and shouted. Both Selina and the Angel turned to him. "This is my decision," he said, "no one else should be hurt by it."
"And this is my decision," Selina said calmly. "If Heaven houses those who punish loyalty such as this, then I want no part of it."
Damian knew then that he could easily love this woman. If she could stand up like this for loyalty, then she must believe in it as strongly as he did.
"You choose Hell?" the Angel asked Selina.
"I choose not to go to Heaven," she answered. "Neither now, nor when my time of penance is over. If Heaven will reject this man, then it is its own Hell." Selina faced the Angel with no trace of fear.
After staring at Selina for what seemed to everyone else like ages, the Angel spoke. "There must be a discussion. You will wait here." He left.
Dazed by the speed of events, Damain approached Selina. "What are you doing?" He managed to say. "You must be out of your mind."
"Not at all." She smiled at him, perhaps a bit nervously, and Damian knew he was in love. "You don't understand. What they are doing isn't right."
"But you don't even know me," he protested. "You could be making a terrible mistake. There may be something worse than Hell for people like us, who challenge the Law."
"What about you?" Selina asked. "You've offered to go with your friend to the place of ultimate nightmares. You're trying to protect me, and you don't know me either. I could be an agent of Hell, for all you know, trying to encourage actions like yours that result in more people being sent there.
"And as for mistakes..." She shrugged. "I've made plenty of mistakes, some worse than this I'm sure. After all, if I hadn't made any mistakes, I wouldn't be here." Locking eyes with him, she continued. "Everyone here thinks that there isn't anything left, that there isn't anything more they can do. But when you spoke up, you made me realize that it shouldn't ever be that late. When they treated you so..." She looked down and scuffed her feet. His eyes were direct and it could be unsettling. "It may be a little late to be idealistic, or romantic, but it's all I have left."
"Better late than never," he joked weakly. "My name is Damian."
Damian was saved the trouble of a reply when someone clubbed him from behind. He stumbled forward from the blow and Selina prevented him from falling. When he turned around, she kept a hand lightly on his arm, but he didn't notice. Jim stood behind him, wild-eyed and ready for another strike. Damian blocked the arm.
"Jim, what is it?" Damian stopped another swing from the free arm.
"You bastard!" Jim shouted furiously. He ripped his hands free, moved to strike again but didn't. Damian stared at him blankly. Selina moved her eyes from one to the other.
She had, she told herself, done one of the more ridiculous things she had ever done by falling for this man before she had even learned his name. His attempt to go with his friend had re-awakened, at this very late date, her faith in the fact that there were still decent people somewhere in the world. When he tried to save her too, she knew her fate was sealed. She didn't care.
"Who asked you to interfere?" Jim was nearly screaming. "I don't want you with me! I never did! I hated you for so long and I want you out of my life! I don't care if I have to go to Hell for it, it'll be worth it." He lowered his arms and stormed off to join those directed to Hell. Moving to the front of the line, he jerked open the door, stepped through, and slammed it so that the clap resounded like thunder. He never looked back.
Damian stared after him, speechless, unaware of Selina laying comforting hands on his shoulders. He didn't notice her until she shook him.
"Listen to me," she said in a low, urgent voice. "The Angel is coming back. He will either have a decision or force us to make one. Do you trust me?" Damian nodded. "I don't know what will happen," she said, "but I have an idea." And I hope it works, she thought to herself.
The Angel appeared and looked at them. Selina thought she saw regret in his expression. "Your decision seems to have been wasted. You can still change your mind." This comment was directed at Damian, who merely shook his head while Selina looked on. "So you have chosen Hell," the Angel said sadly.
"No!" said Selina. "We did not!"
"Child, if you deny yourself the option of Heaven, there is no other choice."
Selina took a deep breath and prepared to play her card. "Yes, there is. We choose Purgatory." Can I do that? she wondered, then plowed on. "Rejecting something does not automatically mean choosing the opposite. Purgatory is a third option, and that is what we want."
Damian was stunned. He saw no confusion on Selina's face, and figured that the bewilderment appropriate to the situation was more than evident on his own and the Angel's faces. The Representatives of Purgatory seemed more than a bit astounded as well, which he could tell only from body language, as their faces were still not visible.
A decision was made at last. Damian and Selina could remain in Purgatory indefinitely. Heaven was closed to them. Should they tire of Purgatory, their only option was Hell. This, the Angel reminded them, was because they had rejected Heaven of their own free will. Selina did not argue the point.
Damian agreed numbly, and let Selina lead him through the leftmost door into Purgatory. It was so similar to the world they had left. Perhaps it was that world, after all. He knew they would never be sure. Everything was so stark, so bleak; nothing inspired hope, or ambition, or happiness. Contact with the other inhabitants was minimal. A very few seemed so hopeful about their penance and what might come after that Damian and Selina hurt to talk to them. Most were withdrawn and uncommunicative.
He was amazed that there had been any kind of "civilization" in Purgatory. Growing up, he had always pictured it as more of a waiting room. Like a doctor's office where one prayed, perhaps; but this time the prayers were of a greater magnitude.
Selina had had similar ideas, but readily jettisoned them to keep up with her present reality. Maybe it had been that way once, she proposed. But people, even dead ones, must get bored after a time. Taking the knowledge from their previous existence, those people had managed to create a similar place here. The difference was that here, there was no further goal for people. Just a place to be, so you might as well be comfortable. Progress was a different matter.
They took comfort in and from each other. Selina held Damian as he grieved for Jim and the friendship he could not believe had been a lie. Damian listened quietly when Selina talked laconically about her past experiences. She had, he later realized, told him far less about herself than he had told her. He wanted to know more about her—all about her—but he waited.
At first, they had merely drifted through the odd land. Later, they had found parts for first one and then two motorcycles. They found things along the road, and at deserted residences—they could not think of those places as homes. Selina thought that perhaps the waiting had been over for the people who had lived there, and they had been taken to Heaven.
All the transportation did, if they allowed themselves to think about it, was allow them to drift further more quickly than they had before. This was not necessarily an advantage. They continued to ride and stop in an irregular but comfortable routine.
And now, thought Damian, as he held Selina closer, we will simply do it all again tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow... Then Selina kissed him and he remembered why Purgatory was bearable.
At the next light they set off for nowhere in particular. There was no dawn here, nor twilight. Darkness faded to the grayness of an overcast day, which then turned back into darkness.
Selina had the uneasy feeling of being watched, but could nearly ignore it. She and Damian had felt it from their first moments in Purgatory. When it persisted, she scanned her surroundings as best she could, but saw nothing. She debated whether she should tell Damian. What could they do if it were so? There was nowhere to run, and no one to turn to for shelter.
They had found that out early on in Purgatory. Few were friendly. Eyes were empty, and so were spirits.
For his part, Damian was mired in thoughts of the past. For a couple of hours—he guessed it to be hours, but he couldn't be sure how or if time passed here—the scenery had seemed familiar. Slogging through hazy memories, he recognized the area as his hometown, or a reasonable facsimile. Yes, now he saw the houses, the schools, the parks ... here he had grown up. He and his sisters had taken refuge in the playground. He and Jim had climbed trees in the park, swum in the river, talked about everything ... Damian brooded over their last meeting.
Had he misjudged his friend so badly? Had Transition caused Jim to snap? Damian sighed. What use wondering? He would never know, and perhaps he didn't want to.
He caught a glimpse of something out of the corner of his eye. It was coming fast. He hit the brakes hard and pulled to his right, nearly falling over. His foot shot out for balance and skidded along the asphalt. He completed the spin and brought the bike under control, then stopped and cut the engine. His heart caught when he searched the road and saw Selina's motorcycle sans rider. Where could she have gone?
There was no sign of her on the road. Damian slammed his hands on the console in anger, either at himself or Selina, he couldn't be sure. Then he heard the cries.
Looking up, he saw Selina being borne off by ... an angel? No, that was no angel. Damian gunned the engine and began to follow as best he could, keeping the flying beast in sight.
A body appeared in his path before he'd gone a mile. Startled, Damian slammed the brakes and swerved, nearly throwing himself off the bike for the second time in ten minutes.
"Good reflexes," a voice said approvingly.
Panting, Damian turned to look at the speaker. She was almost but not quite human, although it was difficult to pinpoint why. Her long red hair was elaborately braided, framing an angular but not unattractive face. She was smiling, but it was malicious.
"Who are you?" he asked.
"My name is Alexis. Your question is much more complicated than that, but that's all you wanted to know, isn't it?" She came closer as she answered, an appraising look in her eyes.
It was the eyes, thought Damian, that set her apart. As she circled him, he confirmed his suspicions. Alexis sported a pair of wings. They were brown, leathery, and tucked tightly against her back.
"I want to know where Selina is, and I want her back, not necessarily in that order," he said in a firm, controlled voice.
Alexis sighed. "Yes, we figured as much." She slid behind him on the bike and wrapped her arms around him. "Drive that way," she said, removing one hand to point.
Deliberately, Damian pulled his hands away from the controls and folded his arms across his chest. "Why should I?" he asked.
Alexis got off the bike, walked around so that she faced him, and then slapped him in the face. "Do not," she hissed, eyes narrowed, "think you can play with us. You will drive that way because that is where your sniveling little friend is if you wish to see her."
"Why don't we just fly, then?" Damian asked, refusing to retaliate on her level. "It would be faster."
"We will, don't worry." Again a smile, this time sly and inviting. "You and I will be able to fly anytime, anywhere, if you so desire. But for now, it is a long way and I cannot support us both for that long." She reseated herself. "Now, drive."
Selina struggled futilely against the talons curled around her shoulders. She thought bitterly that she had been right about being watched but wrong about by whom. After so long in Purgatory, and despite her feelings of being watched, she and Damian had hoped they had been forgotten. Apparently not.
"If you keep that up, I'm likely to drop you." The creature carrying Selina kept flying, beating its wings rhythmically, but curled its neck so that its lupine head faced her.
"Good." Selina stopped for a moment to catch her breath.
The creature shook its head. "No, you don't quite understand. If I drop you, I shall be punished. I don't want that. Now keep still or I'll render you unconscious."
"One question," Selina said. The idea of being unconscious with this beast was distinctly unnerving. It would be better to go along for the moment, and perhaps escape later. "Where are we going?"
"Going?" repeated the creature in astonishment. "Going? Why, to Hell of course." Selina paled as the creature flew onward.
The landscape rolled by. Plains, mountains, skeletal forests. Then Selina noticed a subtle, sinister change. The sky became darker, and so did the land. Jagged rocks became the dominant feature. She shivered involuntarily. Gradually, the demon began to descend, and she could discern more features. But they weren't features, she thought. They were flaws. Cracks, fissures, chasms, abysses ... none of it inviting.
The demon flew into a narrow opening and Selina closed her eyes, expecting to meet one of the rock walls head on. The demon knew the route and maneuvered easily through the caverns. At the end of the flight, the demon released his hold on Selina, who fell unceremoniously to the ground. It wasn't a long fall, merely a couple of feet, but she lay there for a moment, fighting her fear and disorientation.
"Oh, I am sorry." Selina felt a hand on her arm, helping her to stand. "It wasn't intentional, I'm sure." This voice was mostly but not quite sincere in its concern. There was an edge to the tone that put her on guard.
Selina jerked her arm back and hugged herself tightly. Looking around, she saw that she and her companion stood in a cavern. It was huge, asymmetrical and lit by torches. There was one ostentatious chair at the far end which dominated the room, but any other seats were carved haphazardly from the rock. All of them looked uncomfortable.
"Why am I here?" Selina asked, letting her arms fall to her side.
"Because I thought you might like a change of scenery," answered her host. He strode past her and sat in the throne—that was what Selina thought it must be. With a slight smile, his tar black eyes fixed on her. He had a lanky frame and moved with sinuous grace. One long-fingered hand moved through golden hair that matched his eyes.
"Scenery?" asked Selina, dumbfounded. Then she rallied slightly. "You might have asked first."
"But I, my dear, am Satan. I don't need to ask. For anything." His voice had a purring quality to it. Selina was almost but not quite surprised. Who else was it likely that one would meet in Hell?
"So, what do you want?" She tried to her fear hide behind bravado.
"I want you," said Satan, relaxing into his chair. He rested his elbows on the arms of the chair and folded his tapered fingers over each other. "And your little friend, of course. I waited for some time, but I am not the most patient of beings."
"Why do you want us? We're so ... insignificant." Selina was still scared, but also genuinely curious.
"You underestimate the effect of your actions back in Transition. You denied yourselves the option of Heaven! It was extraordinary!" Satan allowed himself a chuckle. "I was very impressed, I must tell you." He shifted in the chair, rested one arm in his lap and his chin in his other hand.
"I'm glad we entertained you," Selina said guardedly.
"Yes, yes, but then you went to Purgatory, and it was all so dull. After all you and your friend do belong to me. I became tired of waiting, as I said."
"Belong to you?"
"Quite." Satan smiled, revealing small but vicious, gleaming white teeth. "One cannot remain in Purgatory forever. You cannot go to Heaven. Think of this as a welcome to your new home."
"I don't understand," Selina said warily. "The decision was Purgatory, and then Hell if we so chose. We didn't make that choice. We haven't done anything to change the balance."
"Balance?" Satan laughed. "I don't care about balances. I care about what's mine. Specifically, you and your little friend." He fixed a bemused look on her. "I was quite surprised, actually, that you were slated for Redemption."
"Why?" Selina couldn't believe Satan would take a personal interest in her, when there were so many people in the world.
"Oh, come, my dear. The life you led? Where did you think you were going?"
"I tried..." Her voice was barely above a whisper as she stared at her feet. "I did try..."
"Not very hard, did you?" He asked sardonically. "A few weeks clear here, a few days there. I believe you even went over four months once, before you gave in and had a fix. Nothing like some heroin straight into the blood to improve your outlook, is there?" He leaned forward, eyes glittering.
"I was scared," she said, half to herself. "I didn't know what I was doing. I was too young. I didn't know enough..."
"You knew more than enough," he threw back at her. "But you thought you could handle it, didn't you?" He stood up and advanced on her. "First you thought you'd run away, but that would be all right. You'd get a job, a waitress maybe, and work for something better. But that wasn't enough. To save for so long and realize that you still had so little.
"So you let one of them talk you into prostitution. Just once, of course, to get a little extra money. But it was so much easier to make your money that way, wasn't it? And occasionally you'd get a good meal or an evening out of it. But it was painful, emotionally painful."
Selina shut her eyes and tried to shut her ears to the searing, true words. He continued, in a low, intense tone, circling as he spoke. Tears began to run down her face.
"Then someone told you about a drug that would eliminate the pain. But it never really went away, so you needed heavier doses of stronger drugs." The words slid over Selina, who wanted so badly to wipe them away but was paralyzed. "And the better drugs cost more money, don't they?
"So now you had to do more to earn the money. More sex. Then stealing, I believe. Lucky you were never caught." He stopped circling her. "A few lucid moments here and there and you swore you'd stop. But you never could ... and you never wanted to, did you?"
Selina fell to her knees and buried her face in her hands, sobbing. She had wanted to stop, she had ... but it had been so hard ... There had been nowhere to go; she couldn't return home, they didn't want her. Caught up in a vicious circle, she had seen no way out.
"But, like all of them, you're ashamed of it. Think it makes you a bad person..." He leaned down and caught her shoulder in a vise-like grip, speaking sharply. "And you were right, you know. How you balanced out up there, I'll never understand. Have you told your friend about what you were? What you still are?"
No, she thought despairingly, she had never told Damian. Although he always said that the past no longer mattered, she had never been able to bring herself to tell him. She had never been able to believe that she had done all those things. Sometimes it seemed as though she were on the brink of telling him everything, but something always held her back.
"Enough of this," Satan said impatiently. "Your friend should be here soon. We can't have you looking like this. Preparations are necessary." He yanked her to her feet.
"Preparation?" Selina felt her skin crawl as she tried to bring herself under control.
"But of course." Satan offered her his arm. "Angels must have wings."
Alexis guided Damian through the most desolate terrain he had ever seen, even in Purgatory. He was careful, but expected a flat tire, or worse, any minute. She directed him down into a large fissure, which quickly widened into a tunnel, permitting better maneuverability.
At last, she shouted, "Stop!" over the roar of the engine. Her command was amplified by the cavern walls. After Damian cut the power, she slid off and said, "Follow me."
"Where to?" he asked, forcing himself to dismount in a casual manner. He did not want to seem hurried, or afraid. At the moment, he felt he could only follow his instincts, which told him to move slowly and keep alert, so that if the chance arose for him to take control of the situation, he would be ready.
"To meet your host," Alexis said with a wink. "He's been waiting to meet you for quite some time." She turned and led him through what seemed like endless tunnels. The ground was rough, and the irregular click-clack of falling pebbles was a constant accompaniment. The last tunnel opened into the large cavern where the demon had dropped Selina. Alexis stopped him before they crossed the threshold. Damian gaped at the sheer immensity of the space. Alexis tapped softly on a ragged piece of quartz sitting by the entrance and a chime rang out. Satan turned at the sound.
"Ah, Alexis, my dear!" he said, pleased. "You have returned. I see you managed to deliver my invitation." He gave Damian an expansive smile. With the change in his attention, Alexis left.
"Welcome, welcome," Satan told Damian warmly. Then an apologetic tone crept into his voice. "I'm sorry that your companion had to be brought in first. But I'm sure you understand, we had to be sure that you would come." He sauntered up to the throne and lounged in the seat. "Tell me, what do you think of your new home?"
"This is not my home," Damian said quietly. "I don't have time for this. Where is Selina?"
"No time?" Satan chuckled, but Damian thought he saw the charming facade begin to slip away just then. "My dear boy, you have nothing but time. It's amazing what problems a little logic can cause." Again that small laugh, low in the throat, with a hint of menace creeping in. "Time, however, does eventually weigh on the best of us, even me. I grew weary of waiting for you."
"Sorry to have imposed on your time. We'll take up no more of it." Damian looked around the cavern, but saw no sign of Selina. Her absence began to nag at him more sharply, though he refused to let it show.
"Why are the two of you so hard to convince?" Satan shook his head. "Selina gave me much the same replies. Look, Damian," he leaned forward, taking a conversational tone, "how long do you think you could have kept going? Before you tired of it, tired of each other? Come on now, be honest."
"Why should I be?" Damian looked directly into Satan's black eyes. "You're the Prince of Lies. Yet you demand honesty from me?" He laughed shortly. "How ironic."
"Answer my question," Satan said, his eyes flashing.
"As long as necessary."
Satan leaned back and waved his hand dismissively. "Words. Sincere, perhaps. Brave. But words nonetheless. Face it, Damian, it was only a matter of time before you came here. Why they decided to slate you for Redemption is something I don't think I'll quite understand. You did commit suicide after all."
Damian was startled into silence by that comment. Had he committed suicide? No, that had been Jim. Damian had gotten drunk, true. And rammed into a truck, true. But that was the result of the alcohol, not a death wish.
"You know, you're both odd cases," Satan continued. Damian forced himself to concentrate on what was being said. "I thought there would be no question that the two of you would come to Hell. So you can imagine how glad I was when the two of you chose against Heaven."
"We did that," said Damian, "but that doesn't mean we chose this place."
"So you'd like to think," said Satan, laughing again. "As I said, Selina's logic threw a nice monkey wrench into the proceedings, but only temporarily."
"How's that?" Damian asked.
"Well, she had a point, you see," Satan explained. "If she hadn't, there wouldn't have been such a commotion. Here they are, going on about free will, and aspiring to act in the image of Christ, and when you actually do it, you confuse them to no end. No one, or not many, saw the challenge presented to them, but she did. They weren't ready for it."
"That isn't our problem," Damian observed.
"It certainly became your problem," Satan shot back. "That's why we're having this conversation instead of you wandering around out there in sackcloth and ashes and wailing in agonized repentance."
Damian was silent. This was true. Perhaps not exactly as it had been phrased, but close enough to be accurate. Because there were two conceivably valid logical trails, there had been a collision. Selina had tried to extricate them from the scene of a major accident with only minor injuries.
"Tell me something," Satan said in a conspiratorial tone, "would you have repented?"
"I suppose." Damian was startled by the question.
"You know," Satan said, "there are some who don't. They wander around for, oh, quite a while, and get fed up with it. I mean, who are they up there to decide how long a person should spend pounding their chests and living in filth? A few—the wise few, in my mind—realize that this is not just, or fair. Subservience is not exactly considered a virtue in your world, is it?"
"I guess not." Damian felt himself losing control of the conversation, if he had ever possessed it.
"You guess, you suppose," Satan sneered. "Don't you ever mean anything? I remember the things you used to say. You and Jim, whiling away the hours. You said them as though you meant them, but now I wonder. All your fine talk of honor and friends forever—where did it get you?"