It was the sudden, soft tap-tap-tap of a cane on the floor that finally made Maya give up on the pretence of sleep. Opening her eyes, she saw the shape of him in the weak neon glow from the window, moving past the foot of her bed with greater certainty than blindness should allow. He paused at the sound of her voice: "I said no. Get out."
Without turning, he angled his head towards her, and folded his hands serenely on top of his cane. "I would like to tell you a story, Maya," he said, and even though she knew very well who and what he was, she couldn't help thinking that he sounded kind, almost soothing. "You don't have to do anything but listen. And then I'll go away."
She thought she saw a dull red glow from the vicinity of his smoked glasses. "For good, or just for tonight?"
She knew she saw a glint of teeth. "What do you think?"
Sighing loudly with all the irritation she felt, Maya pulled herself into a seated position and made herself comfortable against her pillows. "Fine," she said, waving one hand in exaggerated permission. "Tell me a story."
He nodded. "Once upon a time," he began, the merest hint of sing-song in his tranquil tone, "there was an angel. He lived in Heaven, where he spent the neverending beautiful, balmy days fluttering his feathery wings, singing in the celestial choir, and lounging on fluffy, cherub-stuffed clouds with all the other angels. And every moment he felt the searingly beatific glory of God's love, which filled every sense of his entire being--" Another flash of teeth in the dark. "--and was better than all the sex you could possibly have, or imagine having, in your entire life.
"Then, one day, the angel couldn't feel God's love anymore." Now he turned, faced her full-on as if he were staring at her. She thought he was, despite the clouded eyes behind his glasses. "It happened suddenly, this retraction of holy favour; it was as if there was only so much love to go around, and God had deemed this angel--this angel in particular--less worthy than the other angels of receiving it, and had reallocated it without a second thought." He paused, then shrugged. "Well, the angel knew better than to stick around where he wasn't wanted, so after having a few choice words with God, he overhauled his image, took a handful of other jilted angels under his now-leathery wing and struck out for a place to call his own.
"He wound up in Hell," he said without rancour. "It was hot, it stank of brimstone, and what with all the smoke and cinders it was a bitch to clean, but the former angel thought it had a certain je ne sais quoi." Another pause, during which he angled his head as if to look out the window and tapped his cane idly against the foot of Maya's bed. "He laid claim to the boiling pit right away, and started measuring for curtains. And advertising for roommates, who started arriving in droves--" He brought his cane down sharply on the floor. "--proving that there were some people who considered that particular angel worthy of their attention. Clever people, important people, interesting people. People who could beat all the angels in Heaven any day of the newly-minted week when it came to good conversation. And the so-called 'fallen angel' welcomed them into his home, and loved them all. And lo, he never once looked back on his time in Heaven with anything other than scorn."
He fell silent. After a few moments Maya prompted, "Is there a moral to this story?"
"A moral?" Turning back to her with an expression tinged with condescension, he shook his head. "Dear girl, I'm not going to preach to you; that sort of thing is a human behaviour. The...crux of the story is: it's the company you choose to keep in Hell that makes all the difference." Reaching up, he removed his glasses; his milky eyes were fixed on her, and made her shiver. "You could do so much worse."
Maya followed Morgan out of her apartment, leaned against the doorjamb and watched him stride off down the hall. He turned back as he waited for the elevator; she mustered a smile and a wave, both of which he returned in his reserved way before stepping into the elevator and out of sight. Sighing, Maya went back into her apartment and closed the door.
"Ah, Morgan: gallivanting around the globe in a desperate attempt to save a soul. How noble."
He was sitting on her couch, one arm slung comfortably across the back. His glasses were gone; his now-sighted brown eyes twinkled with amusement as she shut the door behind her with more force than was necessary. "It is noble of him," she said, crossing her arms and levelling him with a cool stare.
He nodded. "You're quite correct. He pays for these little jaunts out-of-pocket, you know."
"Why do you let him try?" It was a question she'd wanted to ask Morgan, but hadn't yet because she wasn't sure she was ready to hear his answer.
He shrugged. "Our dear Morgan," he said, dropping his voice as if discussing a juicy confidence, "has what's called an 'obsessive personality'. You may have noticed: it's why he never moved out of this rat-trap, even when the two of you really weren't getting along; it's why he still moons over a certain picture of a long-dead lover. It's what made him, for a very long time, one of the best Collectors in my employ." His fingers started plucking at a frayed thread on a cushion. "These days, it gives him hope. And more often than not, hope leads to misery. Which, if you're me, is quality entertainment."
Maya nodded slowly. "But he has saved people."
"Oh, yes." He indicated her with a lazy wave of his hand. "You're living, breathing, damnation-free proof of that. So?"
She blinked, confused. "So...what?"
"So..." Leaning forward, he rested his elbows on his knees and folded his hands together, and watched her with curious expectancy. "As one of Morgan's occasional success stories, why do you think I let him try?"
The gateway to Hell blossomed behind Maya's eyes; she remembered the physical slap of heat on her skin, the sight of roaring, deathless flames. She heard the echoing screams of pain and terror and sorrow. She imagined living with all that inside, under the skin, for centuries. Possibly for eternity.
She blinked, and saw the face of the devil. "Because he can."
His eyes narrowed--then, slowly, he smiled. "You read too much into my motives," he said airily, and cocked his head to the side. "Why not just because I can?"
She was slicing vegetables for lunch when he leaned against the counter beside her, reached for a carrot stick and almost had his finger sliced open. "You're being taken advantage of," he said, ignoring her exasperated look in favour of examining his selected carrot as if it held the secrets of creation. Then he took a bite and crunched contentedly.
Maya rolled her eyes and resumed cutting. "Believe me, I know."
He chuckled. "I meant your little friend. Running off for the weekend, leaving you to take care of the brat...what kind of friend does that?"
"A good one," Maya answered shortly, busying herself with arranging the vegetables on a plate. "Taylor's done a lot for me. I'm happy to watch Gabe for her; she deserves a bit of a break."
"Even if she wanted that break so she could perform sinfully carnal acts with your brother?" Leaning over until their shoulders bumped, he waggled his eyebrows and said, "I have to ask: why do you think the men in your family are so irresistible?"
She tossed the knife into the sink with more force than was necessary; it clattered loudly on the breakfast dishes. "Lunch is almost ready, Gabe," she announced, as if there was a chance he'd come the first time she called. "Wash your hands and come to the table, please."
"Well, as long as you're comfortable within yourself." Finishing his carrot, he turned to look at Gabe, who was sitting on the couch and staring into space. "You know, I think there's something wrong with that kid."
She couldn't help laughing. "And that's, what, supposed to mean something coming from you?"
The look he slanted her way raised gooseflesh. "Yes." And then he was gone.
When Maya turned around, Gabe was looking right at her, his attention focused like a laser.
He'd been rambling incomprehensibly about the history of nuclear chemistry for five minutes before she looked up from the magazine she'd been pretending to read and interrupted him: "Tell me about Katrina."
The little, startled movement of his head made her feel like she'd won something, somehow. "You mean Morgan still hasn't shared that juicy little tidbit of his life with you?" he said after a moment, and stroked his goatee. "Hmm. Could it be that he'd prefer to keep that particular shame a private matter?"
"He's already told me about her," Maya said pointedly, then glanced back down at her magazine. "I just thought...well, you were there, too..."
"Mm-hmm," he said, drawing it out. She rolled her eyes, but before she could form the right words to protest he sat down next to her and continued conversationally, "God needn't have wasted time messing about with that rib. The key to man's downfall--every man's downfall--resides in a very different portion of his anatomy." He arched a lascivious eyebrow. "They don't call it the trouser snake for nothing."
"And that was it?" She thought about the three years she'd spent waiting for Morgan to show any sign that he even had desires, much less acted on them with any kind of regularity, and fixed him with an incredulous stare. "Your big, evil plan for controlling Morgan's soul was lust?"
He shrugged. "It worked. It is a deadly sin, you know." Reaching across her lap, he patted her hand. "Oh, don't worry about Katrina. She may have been a big deal for Morgan, but in the great scheme of things, I can think of few people who are less important to you."
Something about that gave her pause. She replayed the sentence in her head, and saw the gleaming steadiness of his gaze, and felt the perfectly ordinary warmth of his hand, and worried that she was being played. She knew she'd be preoccupied with figuring out how long after he left. "You make her sound so insignificant."
"That's because she is, to you. Utterly negligible." He smiled. "Trust me."
His hands were warm on her skin. They stroked long and slow, the pressure like waves moving over her body; she gasped and arched, surprised by his care, and her fingers curled around fistfuls of blanket.
His mouth was restless, and scattered open kisses from her throat to her hips. He made no sounds, no moans or whispers (or breath); she felt his silence as another sensation, as if it were tactile.
His tongue was long and thin and forked. When his head settled between her thighs she felt it slide inside, and she closed her eyes and hissed.
Later, after waking up, she couldn't be sure that it had been a dream.
She'd just closed the door behind her--still had her hand on the knob--when he appeared beside her, relaxed and grinning. "Welcome home! How was Vienna?"
She dropped her suitcase, opened the door again, and glared at him. "Get out."
He didn't move. "Isn't the proper phrase, 'Get thee behind me, Satan'? You can say it. As positions go, that one works just as well for me as face-to-face."
"You're naive." Crossing his arms, he leaned against the wall beside the door and watched her disapprovingly. "Did you honestly think I had Morgan take you halfway around the world so you would listen to a couple of priests? That's pretty gullible, even for you."
"Did you honestly think I would really listen to what a demon said at its exorcism? I think that makes you the gullible one here." Maya slammed the door shut and planted her hands on her hips. "Morgan and Father Martin were right: it all comes down to a choice. And I choose God."
"Do you?" He nodded in a mockery of satisfaction. "Well done. It's not the most feminist of decisions, but then the Church has always frowned upon the 'I choose me' option." He laughed; the next second he was right in front of her, trespassing in her space. Startled, Maya couldn't help rearing back--but then she gritted her teeth, leaned forward again, and stood her ground, glaring defiantly into his eyes. "Come come, dear girl! What you choose doesn't matter. God has plans. He had plans for me, for Eve, for Cain and Job and Judas; you're no less helpless than any of us against the ineffable tide."
Maya shook her head. "I have free will--"
"Free will is nonsense! It's a theory that blind men latch onto for comfort in the dark." His mirth subsided into simmering intensity; raising his left hand, he brushed his index finger over her cheek, and she tried not to shiver. "God created the dark," he murmured, his gaze suddenly, strangely shuttered, "but he won't lower himself to slumming it there. Not even to give comfort to those he loves."
The stroking touch on her skin was mesmerizing; it took Maya a moment to understand what he'd said, and then she had to fight to respond. "I thought--" she began, then broke off and swallowed and began again. "I thought you said that God only has so much love to go around. That he only loves the people who are worth it."
He blinked, and all at once his whole attention was back on her. His hand lifted from her face, but she still felt the tingling sense-memory of his touch. "Don't you wonder how he judges worth?" he asked, his tone bearing the slightest hint of dark amusement. "It's not that Our Father loves us; it's not that he doesn't. It's that regardless of how much he loves us, he loves what he can do to us more." He smiled, slow and suggestive and easy.
"I thought you of all people would understand that."
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Fandom: Other (The Collector)
Author: Jayne Leitch [email] [website]
Details: Standalone | R | gen het | 13k | 05/07/06
Characters: Maya, the Devil
Summary: In 'The Media Baron', the Devil asked Maya to be his confidante. It seemed an innocuous enough proposal at the time.
Notes: Spoilers for the entire series, up to and including 'The Exorcist'. Content some people may find offensive.
Disclaimer/Other: Everything belongs to Cooksey and Matheson. Well, some of the blasphemy's mine. But only some!
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