Everyone seated around the table had fallen silent when Disharmonia had laid out the question of whether or not they would be signing the contract. It might have been the length of a human heartbeat or the span of an epoch before anyone spoke again.
“That is, indeed, the question,” Lucifer said softly. He met Disharmonia’s gaze. She saw a flicker of something—pride? Fear?—cross his face before he schooled his features into his usual stern expression.
Disharmonia squared her shoulders and looked the blond woman in the eye. “No,” she said. The word seemed to reverberate off the walls.
Next to her, she felt Neriel shift. She risked glancing up at him and noted that his jaw was set; she couldn’t read him at all. She knew that she was going to have to do something. Or rather, she knew her father was going to have to do something. In fact, she was counting on it.
The blond woman gave a single nod, and Disharmonia thought she saw the faint trace of a smile, but it was gone before she could be certain. The woman held out her hand expectantly, and everyone returned their copies of the contract to her. She collected everything and placed it carefully inside her briefcase before snapping it shut.
“I believe our business here is concluded,” she said, “until such time that an acceptable solution can be arrived at between the parties.”
“Wait!” Lucifer put up his hand. “First I want to know why Disharmonia didn’t sign it.”
This was her only chance. If what she said didn’t convince him to take action, nothing would. Disharmonia stood up and moved around the table to where he was seated. She knelt down and put her hand on his arm. Looking up at him, she said, “If you could come to an agreement in order to keep me from Heaven, then surely you can find the solution without the contract.”
His reaction wasn’t what she had hoped for. He frowned down at her. “Whatever I might have in mind will just have to wait until your sentencing.”
Disharmonia gasped at his cruelty. “But—”
Lucifer held up his hand. “I have nothing further to say on the matter.”
“I do, however.” Lilith’s voice was quiet, but there was something in it that made everyone sit up and take notice.
“Disharmonia has refused to sign the contract. I do not see what else there could be to talk about!” Lucifer slammed his fist down on the table.
“I had hoped,” Lilith said, her voice dripping with intentional calmness, “that you would arrive at an acceptable solution on your own. It would seem that I need to step in.”
“Just what are you talking about, woman?” Lucifer demanded.
“I believe our angelic friend may be able to make you an offer you can’t refuse.”
Lucifer looked to the blond woman. He raised an eyebrow at her. “Oh, really?”
The woman nodded. She flipped her briefcase open once again and withdrew yet another paper. Instead of passing it directly to Lucifer, however, she handed it to Disharmonia, who accepted it hesitantly. She read through it three times before she allowed herself to hope.
“Well?” Lucifer demanded. “What does it say?”
Lilith replied, “Do you remember how hard it’s been to find guardians for the Place Between?”
Lucifer grunted. “Of course. We’ve only been arguing about this for several millenia now.”
“Right. And why can’t we find anyone?”
He glared at his wife. “We all know that it’s because their side”—he jerked his head at the woman and her companions—“keeps making things difficult for us. Won’t let us torture the souls held there or even so much as try to get them to choose us.”
Lilith just rolled her eyes. “Not that we haven’t done our share of interfering when they start singing the praises of paradise. But what’s the real issue?”
Lucifer crossed his arms. “We just don’t get along.”
“Right. We’ve never been able to make it last because no demon wants a permanent working relationship with an angel.” She glanced at the woman. “I suppose it’s likely the same at their end. Not only that, none of us have exactly been objective about who we send in. It’s been escalating for a long time.”
“I still have no idea what you’re getting at.”
“Disharmonia, dear, please give your father the paper.”
Disharmonia slid the paper across the table to Lucifer. He snatched it up and began reading. As he read, Disharmonia watched his eyebrows go up and his eyes widen. She held her breath.
He slowly placed the paper back on the table and spent at least thirty seconds smoothing out the wrinkles he’d put there when he grabbed it. At last he looked up and said, “This is…utterly brilliant.”
Disharmonia slumped back against her chair. Around her she heard the collective sighs of relief. She looked over at Neriel. There was something in his smile that seemed—rather self-satisfied, if Disharmonia was reading it right. She tilted her head to the side questioningly, but he shook his head just a little.
“Later,” he whispered.
“So that settles it, then,” the blond woman said. “Once Disharmonia and Neriel are ceremonially bonded to one another, they shall become the permanent guardians of the Place between. From there, they will have equal access to either side, should the occasion arise. In return, they agree to the terms and conditions of their position. They will neither interfere with the natural proceedings nor with one another in their dealings with the human souls.”
There were nods of agreement all around, and the woman pulled the contract towards herself. She applied her official seal to the bottom and passed it around the table for the others to do the same. Once it was signed, she tucked it back into her briefcase and closed it with a snap. She stood, and her angelic bodyguards followed suit. Everyone else took that as a cue to rise from the table as well.
The woman turned to face Lucifer. “Our people will be in touch about the particulars regarding the rights and responsibilities of the involved parties, although I suspect this will be a far easier task than it has been in previous attempts. I shall send someone to inform those assigned to the post that their time is limited.”
“We can take care of that,” Lucifer snapped.
The woman gave a small snort. “As though we would ever trust your side with that job.”
Lucifer pouted, and Lilith patted him comfortingly on the arm. He huffed and muttered, “It was worth a shot.”
“Yes, dear,” Lilith murmured. She rubbed his arm lightly.
Meanwhile, Neriel walked the blond woman to the door. He leaned in and said something to her that Disharmonia didn’t catch. He glanced back at her and smiled before opening the door for the woman and her companions. She stepped out at a brisk pace, snapping her fingers at the other two to keep up.
When they had disappeared, an awkward sense of relief settled over the group. They shared a moment of silence. After a time, Disharmonia said, “We should probably go make some plans.”
“Of course, dear,” Lilith replied.
Free to do what they liked at last, Disharmonia reached out her hand and Neriel took it. They laced their fingers together and left the room, leaving her parents alone.
Although Disharmonia knew that she would have some freedom to come and go from her home—which she wouldn’t have had if she’d been banished—she was still sorry to be leaving it behind. Still, it was better than giving up everything to become someone she wasn’t. It pleased her, too, that her husband-to-be wouldn’t need to change for her, either. She supposed it was probably bad form for a demon to appreciate equality or justice, but she’d never been a typical demon anyway. Besides, it wasn’t much better for an angel to trust himself to a demon, yet here they stood.
Before Neriel needed to return to the Heavenly Realm, Disharmonia wanted to show him one of her favorite places. She used her considerable power to transport them to the very edge of the volcanic river where the burning blooms shimmered with heat. She could think of no place more beautiful.
Disharmonia could tell from Neriel’s expression that he was torn between telling her what she wanted to hear—that he found it lovely, too—and being truthful that he preferred the light and air of Heaven. She decided to make that conversation unnecessary by leaning up for a kiss. That was one thing they both understood and found beautiful.
When they parted, Disharmonia said, “You knew.”
“Knew that I would never sign that contract.”
He smiled. “Of course. I was trusting that a demon who could love an angel would also love her father and have respect for herself.”
She grinned. “You understand me so well. Was the rest of it your doing too?”
“Nope.” He laughed and put his arms around her. “You can thank your mother for that.”
Disharmonia pressed herself against Neriel in a tight embrace. She smiled against his chest, thinking she would have to find a way to do something special for her mother. “Well, I’m glad she did. I suppose that’s down to knowing Daddy so well.” She peered up at Neriel. “Do you think we’ll ever be like them?”
Realizing this must be on the order of whether or not the volcano was beautiful, Disharmonia quickly said, “Never mind. I’ll settle for us being—whatever it is we are.”
“Sounds good to me.” He sighed, a look of utter contentment on his face.
“Do you really not mind giving up eternal residence in Heaven?” she asked, pulling away from him.
Neriel laid his hands on Disharmonia’s shoulders. “Are you kidding? Anything to get away from the constant singing. Plus, I never did like watching over humans. It’s pretty boring.”
“Well, it was until you met me,” she reminded him. She giggled. “That poor woman. She was being watched over by a less-than-guardian angel and tormented by a demon who would rather have taken her out for lunch. She’ll never be the same.”
Neriel shrugged. “She’s human. She’ll survive. Though after what we put her through, her soul will probably end up with us anyway.”
“That oughta cause her to pick which side she wants in a hurry.”
“One less we’ll have to worry about.”
Disharmonia gave one last look at her beloved volcano. “Shall we go start making plans?”
“Maybe in a few more minutes.”
With that, Neriel drew Disharmonia to himself and leaned in to capture her lips. It was quite possibly the most holy kiss Hell has ever seen, and if anyone had witnessed it, the impression would have lasted for an eternity.
©April 25, 2013 ABMitchell