The smoke that filled the jazz club in New Orleans was artificial. No one smoked inside anymore. Still, it made her smile that they would think of the atmosphere of the days gone by when the club was opened last year. Grace made her way through the crowd, nodding to the bartender who caught her eye.
She scanned the room, looking for her next crop to reap, while making mental notes about who was actually smoking inside the club. Shaking her head, she gave a little flick of her wrist and every cigar in the room went out. Several tried to relight their stogies as she walked by, but not one of the lighters or matches they had would catch the flame.
Over in the corner, a man of nearly forty years was nursing a glass of whiskey. His hair had already started threading itself with silver. Smiling, Grace slid in to the chair across from him and settled down, crossing her black silk clad legs. The skirt of the blue dress she wore slid open and settled, showing more skin than anyone dared to in this part of town anymore. The gangs and dealers saw to that after the hurricane came through nearly ten years ago.
“I’m not ready to go,” he said when he realized she was there.
Grace tapped her fingers on the table to the song that was being played. The singer was quite good, but she’d heard the original do it better. Journey didn’t really fit this bar anyway.
“We made a deal, Henry.”
He looked up at her, eyes red and drawn down. Tear tracks ran down his face and he sniffed.
“Abigail is pregnant. I can’t leave her yet.”
“and I can’t afford to piss off my boss,” Grace said as she studied her companion.
His dress uniform buttons were polished mirror bright and he would have cut an imposing figure if he hadn’t given off the air of depression and hopelessness. There was a tug at what little heart she hadn’t buried deep and Grace sighed deeply.
“I can promise it will be quick. I won’t drag it out.”
Henry’s shoulders slumped even deeper. “I can’t leave her like that.”
“They’ll give her your benefits. They wouldn’t dare cross me on that. After all, you’re hardly the first cop that’s taken the deal. You won’t be the last, either.”
Grace laughed, low and slow, while leaning forward and allowing her eyes to turn completely black.
“Yes, I am. You knew that too, when you called for me to save her life. I gave you the terms then. Ten years. No more, no less. Ten years for taking the cancer away and allowing you both to have the children you had been trying to have.”
Henry moved his shoulders in a shrug.
“Not such a bad deal. Better than most, I think. You at least asked for someone else, most ask for themselves,” Grace said.
Henry heaved himself to his feet. “I think I’m going to be sick.”
He ambled off to the bathroom and Grace sighed with frustration. He was going to run. She hated when they ran.
Getting up, Grace tossed a bill on the table without looking and made her way through the kitchens and out the backdoor of the club. Stepping out the back door she lifted her face to the breeze that was coming down the alley. Catching his scent, she turned right and walked down the alley and out on to the main street.
Drunken revelers for Mardi Gras danced and flashed each other for beads. Grace smiled at the demons she spotted in the crows and nodded to them. The lust demons would be out tonight, but they wouldn’t bother her. She was too high in rank to be bothered.
Turning right again she head down the street, following the scent trail Henry left. The poor man was terrified and Grace understood, but that wouldn’t stop her from completing the reaping. He’d earned it and she would see to it that it was painless, even if she’d hate herself as much as the boss who made her offer the deals.
Pain in her head drove Grace to her knees as she thought about her boss and how much she hated her job. Gasping and holding the sides of her head, she started bleeding from her nose.
“You really need to let go of your past. It’s going to kill you.”
“I’ll kill you first,” Grace ground out through her gritted teeth.
“That’s what they all say at first. Though, I admit, you’ve lasted the longest.”
“One hundred and fifty years as your lackey, taking lives in exchange for pittance is too damn long,” Grace said. She gasped out loud when he released the pressure in her head.
“You said that five minutes with me was too long and that’s all it took for me to convince you to sign your soul away.”
Grace looked up at her boss. He wasn’t your typical demon. There was no airs about him that said he was better than everyone else. Just a quiet sense of unease that sneaked under your walls and wrapped itself around your heart before you knew it was there.
Grace hated him.
“I’m not entirely convinced that you didn’t influence my decision, but it’s done and I’ve paid.”
Her boss ran a hand through his curly black hair, before adjusting his glasses. He sighed.
“I don’t like hurting you. You’re my most promising agent, but you’re so damn stubborn.”
Grace snorted, blood droplets flying out of her nose. She said nothing though, just struggled back to her feet. As she finished standing, he came closer to her. Even at her five feet eleven, he still topped her by a good six inches. He put his hand under her chin and forced her to look up.
“I love you, my star. As much as a demon can love.”
“Pretty words from a pretty face mean nothing when you’ve got the power to blink me out of existence for disappointing you. A slave cannot love what could destroy her.”
“So you’re over ‘Dear Peter’ then? The one you sold yourself for so that he would live and be with you?”
Grace closed her eyes and steadied herself.
“Peter was an assclown who ditched me the moment he couldn’t handle what I’d done. It took me the first fifty years to see that. I just made you suffer along with me.”
He laughed. That laughter made Grace grit her teeth as she waited for the inevitable slap that always came. She just didn’t know if it would be his hand or his power.
It never came. He touched her face gently, lovingly.
“Every inch the match for me and yet you fight your gift. You’re a demon, Grace. You’ve been one since you made the deal with me and escaped the pit.”
“There’s always hope of freedom.”
“Not for you,” he said as he stepped back.
He snapped his fingers and left her in the middle of a street somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Turning around, Grace smelled her quarry. Damn the man, he’d dropped her off right at the doorstep of her quarry.
Grace looked over the motel, which had long since gone to seedy. She was reasonably sure that there was a bed inside that boasted its ‘magic fingers.’ The thought made her shudder and wish fervently that there were no bugs inside.
Walking quickly to the front door of the motel and walked inside. Grace fixed a smile on her face and crooked her finger at the clerk. He jerked up like a puppet and came around the counter.
“Oh I do so love it when you obey me without fighting,” She purred into the man’s ear.
“Wha-what do you want, miss?” he stammered.
Grace laughed. “I want Henry Jones. What room is he in?”
“Jones? We don’t have no Jones here. Got a Henry Salinger here though.”
Grace laughed at the clerk. “Oh, that’s delightful. Like he could hide from me with that name.”
“You his Ex, lady?” the clerk asked.
“No. I’m here to kill him and take his soul.”
The clerk nodded and looked up at her, like he’d seen the face of god. Grace looked back and allowed her eyes to turn their demon black. The look turned to pure horror.
“He’s in 209. I don’t want no trouble. I saw nothing.”
“Oh I know,” Grace said as she slid her hand up the man’s chest until it was resting over his heart. With just a gentle push of her power, she killed him and left him lying on the floor. ducking around the corner of the front desk, she snagged a key to 209.
“Keys. Who uses keys anymore?” she muttered under her breath and left the front office.
Walking up the steps, Grace released waves of her powers. The lights started flickering and bulbs popped as she walked past. Those that were still awake this close to midnight never looked outside. The unease they felt kept them away from the windows.
Stopping outside 209, Grace knocked on the door.
“Oh do be civil about this, Henry. It’s not like I didn’t give you a chance,” Grace said crossly.
She slid the key in and turned the lock. Opening the door, Grace stepped inside. The room was covered in take out containers and other detritus from a rapidly dissolving mental capacity. Grace doubted he’d even showered in the three days he had been in New Orleans for the funeral of his former Captain.
“You really need to get yourself together. It’s not like it’s the worst thing to ever happen,” Grace said as she walked over to the cleanest of the chairs and sat down.
Henry studied her. “It’s not your life.”
“No, it was yours and you sold it to me for your wife’s health. That makes it mine,” Grace crossed her legs and stared at Henry.
He shifted uncomfortably where he sat on the bed. Henry looked down at his hands and studied them before he spoke again.
“I don’t want to leave her. Not with the baby on the way.”
“Well, that’s too bad. You made the deal. It’s been ten years,” Grace said.
The hunger in her belly for the man’s soul was growing and she was slowly growing less patient with him. His next words slapped her back.
“I don’t want to be like you.”
Grace laughed. “Too late. You’re exactly like me. I sold my soul for my faithless husband and he left me once he found out the truth. You did the same thing, only she didn’t leave you. I commend her for staying. Not many would have.”
Henry was quiet. “Will I become a demon like you?”
“That all depends on if you’re offered the next deal. If you take it, you will become me. There’s a small chance though that you’ll earn a place in purgatory once the terms have been met.”
“What about your terms?”
“They’ll never be met, so I don’t have to worry about gaining my place.”
Henry looked up. “What were they?”
“I cannot fall in love while I serve my maker.”
Henry’s head snapped up. “You said they’ll never be met that sounds pretty easy to me.”
“You’re young. You’ve yet to learn that some things you shouldn’t promise because the terms of love change.”
“but you’re a demon.”
“I’m a lot of things. Demon is just one of them.”
“What else are you?”
“The downfall of my maker, the guardian of the lost and dead, protector of the innocent.”
“Even while you’re corrupting them?”
“Is it corruption to offer what your heart desires the most?” Grace asked softly.
“To give what shouldn’t be given to those who have no hope left? Yes.”
Grace smiled. “I like you, Henry. I could argue with you all night.”
Grace stood up and walked over to him, placing a hand on his shoulder.
“but?” He said, looking up at her.
“It’s time. The bells ring for you,” she said.
“I don’t hear them.”
“Will you send her my love?” he asked.
No one had ever asked her to visit family after being reaped. Grace stopped for a second, arm drawn back with her knife in hand. Looking down at him, she saw the love for his wife inside his eyes.
“Yes. Goodnight Henry,” Grace said as she reached back and then slammed the knife into his chest.
The first stab killed him instantly, the next twelve covered it up. Grace placed more stab wounds on his body and made them seem like he had died defending himself. When she was finished, she stepped back and studied her work.
“It’s a little disturbing, watching you work,” her boss said as he appeared in the room.
“You like to watch anyway,” she replied.
“I do,” He said. Her boss slid an arm around her waist and looked down with her. “You made a masterpiece.”
“I made a horror show, but his wife will get what she needs.”
“Will you do as he asked?”
Her boss shook his head and kissed her temple. “Your soft heart does not suit a demon.”
“I’m demon enough to please you and his Majesty.”
Grace bent down and ran a finger over Henry’s face. The man’s soul drifted up and looked down at her before disappearing down below.
“You left him in there?” he demanded. “Are you mad?”
“That’s why I’m enough demon for both you and him,” she said and turned to leave.
Her boss grabbed her arm and swung her around. “You have gone out of your mind! We don’t do that to the souls we reap!”
Grace stared back at him. “I do it for you.”
He stared at her, then a slow smile crawled across his face. “You do love me.”
“Against my better judgement and the torture, yes.”
“Then your contract is sealed.”
Grace sighed. Admitting it damned her even further and a tear slipped out of her eye.
“but I’m breaking it.”
Her eyes flew open as she felt the shackles fall off of her soul. The ever-present pain in her head from the mind vice he used to control her vanished.
“I can’t have you love me and not be free. Make your choice. I’ll be waiting either way,” he stepped back and vanished.
Grace stood in the crappy motel room, stunned. He’d just given her freedom after over a hundred and fifty years of imprisonment. The relief rushed in to her and she started crying. Standing there, covered with Henry’s blood she wept for the realization that she could never be truly free.
She was a demon and always would be. No amount of begging for forgiveness would unmake her choices. It took her nearly an hour to get herself under control. When Grace came back to herself she was still in the motel room and the bells were ringing again. This time they were for her and a smile tugged at her lips. He would have them rung for her. Her love. Her demon.
Snapping her fingers, the blood and knife vanished. Grace looked down at what was left of Henry and sighed. She had a promise to keep. Walking out the doors, Grace turned and used her gifts to obscure her appearance from anyone who saw. She needed to reach her bike before the police came. They’d respond quickly to one of their own once he was discovered.
Grace walked down the road for three miles before she knew she was being stalked. Stopping, she turned around and looked at her pursuer. A huge black down sat down in front of her. Grace curtsied.
“You always know when it’s me,” he said as he transformed.
“It’s my job to know you,” Grace replied.
“You do good work, my pet.”
“I did as his Majesty commanded. I loved him.”
“On your own, you loved him. It’s certainly took you long enough.”
“It takes as long as it takes.”
“So you’re fond of saying.”
“If it makes you feel better, I didn’t enjoy the first one hundred years.”
Satan laughed. “No, you didn’t.”
Grace bowed her head and smiled.
“You’re still the best agent I have. I need to you to stay with him. Love him, tell me everything he does.”
“As my King commands,” Grace said.
“Keep this up and you’ll be more valuable to me than Lucifer.”
“I’m valuable as long as I keep bringing you information on your son. The second you get bored with me, I’ll be gone. Like the others.”
“So honest. I enjoy it, quite frankly.” he said, then his hand snaked out and grabbed the back of her neck, pulling her close. “Do not over step or bore me and you’ll continue to survive.”
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
Satan stepped back and transformed back in to the dog. He growled at her before trotting away. Grace watched him go and stayed in the same spot until she was sure that she was alone.
“This shit is really getting old,” she said as she started walking back to her bike in town.
Grace got halfway there this time before another voice interrupted her brooding.
“It’s for a reason.”
Grace yelped and spun around. “Damnit, Michael. You could warn a body before you appear like that.”
“You’re so used to watching for demons you forget about us angels. That’s bad for your health. I could have killed you.”
“You need me. You won’t kill me.”
“You play a very dangerous game, Grace.”
“You asked me to play it. You came to me and gave me the command to sell my soul for his life. Then you abandoned me to him for years.”
“We wondered how long it would take you to fall in love with him.”
“Too long for your taste?”
“No, you timed it just right.”
“The apocalypse. You kept him busy just long enough to delay it for us. We’re nearly ready.”
Grace sighed. “It figures.”
“Keep him busy. Keep him out-of-the-way until we need him. Then you may kill him.”
“I’m going to assume that you have a new weapon for me?” Grace said as she started walking again.
“Not yet. We’re still working on that one,” Michael said as he fell in beside her.
“Start working faster then.”
“Don’t tell me what to do, Demon,” he hissed at her.
She laughed. “Don’t get your feathers in a twist, bird brain.”
Michael bristled at the name. “You over step.”
“Demon,” she replied. “At your insistence, by the way. You’re kind of responsible for my attitude.”
“So you keep reminding me.”
“Then next time send Gabriel. I like him better anyway. We have fun.”
“You ended up naked in Reno the last time I sent Gabriel.”
“Like I said; we had fun,” Grace said, laughing.
Michael glared at her. “I’m fun.”
“Prove it,” Grace said.
“Not the way you’re thinking. You’re supposed to be in love with him, remember?”
“I am in love with him, but not the way he wants me to be.”
“What do you mean?”
“Oh, Michael. The love I have for him is that of my captor. I’ll never be in true love with him.”
“But you broke your contract.”
“By feeling love for him. The contract never specified that it be true love,” Grace replied as she walked faster.
Michael stopped dead in the street and started laughing. “So you got him to lift the bonds, break his contract with you, over the love you would feel for a captor?”
Grace stopped and grinned at Michael. “Yes.”
“You’re more clever than I give you credit for.”
“You’re not the only one who underestimates me. That’s everyone’s short coming. You see me as a pretty face to dangle in front of a prince to keep him busy. Meanwhile, I’m busy plotting to take my freedom back.”
“You have your freedom. He lifted the bonds.”
“I’m not free. Not until I’ve been forgiven,” Grace whispered.
Michael looked at her. “Forgiven by whom.”
“Him,” She said.
“You know that He loves you?”
“but I am not forgiven.”
Michael shook his head. “No, you’re not. Not yet.”
“Then I am still damned,” Grace said as she started walking again.
She was almost to her bike. Grace snapped her fingers and changed from her dress to leather pants, white t-shirt and a leather jacket. Her helmet was tucked under her arm.
“Still got the bike I gave you?”
“Always,” Grace replied. She rounded the corner by a warehouse and spotted her bike outside a bar.
Waving hello to the men who were watching over her bike, Grace responded in kind to the cat calls and insults hurled at her direction. Michael frowned at her.
“Oh don’t start. They won’t mess with me. Too many of them have seen me kick a guys teeth in because he got too close,” Grace snapped.
“You’re edges grow rougher with each decade you spend in Hell.”
“You sent me there,” Grace said as she mounted the bike and kicked it to life. “I’m off to go tell a widow her husband sends his love.”
“You remind me of a decision I made long ago and then tell me to kiss off without so much as a ‘by your leave’?” He demanded.
“Yep,” Grace said as she put her helmet on and buckled the strap.
Michael snapped his fingers and the bike shut off. Grace turned to glare at him and found her mouth covered by his. Grace sighed and kissed him back.
“You kissed me first,” Grace whispered back.
“You’ll be the end of me.”
“Or you’ll be the end of me first.”
“Go, before he finds us.”
Grace kicked her bike to life again and sped off toward Henry’s home. She had a promise to keep and she was late. Riding through the swamp lands of Louisiana, Grace let the tears flow. It was hell being in love with both a demon and an angel, but she’d gotten herself there by playing chess. She was winning, but at what cost? What would be left when she finished the game?
Grace thought about it all the way to Chicago. It took her a week and in the mean time, she had time to bring Henry up from the pit to write the letter for his wife.
“You keep calling me up here and they’re going to get upset,” Henry said.
“Help me write this damn letter and stop getting emotional about it,” Grace snapped.
Henry peered at her over the glasses perched on the nose of his borrowed body.
“Now who’s emotional?” he said.
Grace said nothing, just pointed at the letter. Henry sighed and kept writing. It was dawn before she sent him back to the pit and his borrowed body was sent away with his memories wiped. Grace scooped up the letter and read it, making sure he had written nothing about her.
She ended up reading the words he wrote and crying over them until well into the afternoon. Getting up from the table, she folded the letter and tucked it in to an envelope. Placing it in to the pocket of her coat, Grace left the hotel room and made her way to Henry’s house.
She waited outside, staring down at the letter in her hands. Grace turned it over and over again in her hands, studying it closely. She didn’t see Abigail walk up to the single row house, mounting the steps before spotting her.
“You’re here for me.”
Grace was startled and looked up at her. She saw eyes that were rimmed with red and felt guilt for the first time in nearly a century. Grace nodded.
“Why are you here?”
“I’m a friend of your husband. He gave me this before passing. Asked me to give it to you. I didn’t know that he was going to end up dead before he would get to see you again,” Grace said as she held out the letter.
Abigail’s hands trembled as she set down her bag of groceries, walked over and reached for the letter.
“You should have taken this to the police in Louisiana,” she said.
“I’m not from Louisiana. I happened to be in Baton Rouge that week. He swung by to see me before going to New Orleans. I didn’t know until I was already in Chicago that he had died,” Grace said.
The guilt from lying to the woman was starting to grow. Just more lies to her penance.
Abigail nodded. “He would do that, if he hadn’t seen you in a while. How did you meet?”
“He was assigned to me once, that’s how we met,” Grace said. “He was a good man. He loved you. Talked about you all the time.”
Abigail smiled. “I loved him so much.”
Grace said nothing, just waited. Abigail looked up at her.
“It’s nice to meet you. Thank you for his letter.”
“You’re welcome,” Grace replied.
“Goodbye,” Abigail said as she walked back up the steps and picked up her groceries again. She unlocked the rood and walked inside, closing the door behind her.
Grace waited until she heard the door lock. She was pulling on her helmet and about to kick-start her bike when Grace heard the music coming from the house. It was Journey.
“Send her my love, Memories remain
Send her my love, roses never fade
Send her my love..”
Grace smiled up at the sky, buckled her helmet and then kicked her bike to life. She pulled away from the curb and headed out of town.The guilt from this one wouldn’t leave her any time soon, but Grace made a promise she’d come back and check on the baby once this was all over with and she was free.
For now though, Grace had a meeting with the Prince to keep and she must not be late.