Part of Apex of Creation
For the second time today, I found myself comforting Emily as she cried. But we were in my dorm, not Hell. And instead of releasing two decades of pent-up anger at Nigel Butler, we had just stopped Lucifer from canceling out most of the Book of Revelation.
Oh, and Emily had kissed me earlier. So it was a good day.
“You alright?” I asked, as Emily slowly calmed down.
“N… not yet.” Emily stuttered. “That was rough. I kinda shut down there, sorry.”
“Not your fault.” I said, shaking my head. “Lucifer was hitting you pretty hard. You did well. I’m sorry I didn’t get him off you sooner.”
Emily wiped away a streak of makeup. “What happened?”
“Well, it all went down pretty fast, but I popped out of Hell right after you did, kicked Lucifer away from you, grabbed the Scroll, and tossed it through the closet. Lucifer went after it. Since he’s, you know, the Devil, that went about as well as you might expect. He got thrown against the other wall. Oh, and I kicked him. Right in the testicles. Twice.”
Emily gave a weak laugh. “Good. He deserved it.”
Under more normal circumstances, I might have been inclined to just sit and enjoy Emily’s comforting presence after the harrowing trip through Hell. But Kevin was still frozen across the room, staring at the pit to Hell that no longer existed.
And Emily and I were covered in dirt, ash, soot, and sweat. Our clothes were ruined, not to mention the half of my suit that I had left behind in Hell. That was going to be fun to explain to my dad.
I grabbed a change of clothes, and Emily and I went to her room. Her roommate was still out on her own date, and I changed in the bathroom. I came out to see Emily in a loose T-shirt and shorts. Her hair had lost its curls to the heat, and was now pulled back into a loose ponytail.
“So what do we do about Kevin?” Emily asked. “He saw the portal to Hell open up in your room.”
“He’s an irresponsible stoner who can’t pass class because he’s too busy partying.” I answered, as I finally let go of time. “He’ll probably just assume it was a bad trip. And even if he doesn’t, nobody is going to take him seriously.”
“Oh… okay.” Emily didn’t seem very satisfied.
“And to be honest, I don’t really know what else to do about him.”
There was a knock at the door.
“Shit.” Emily swore, as she got up to check the peephole. “Marie wasn’t supposed to be back this early. Oh. It’s Cael.”
Emily opened the door, and the angel came in. “Hi James. Thought you were going to tell me once anything happened with the portal to Hell?”
Oh, so that was how it was going to be. I felt my good mood rapidly evaporate.
“Scroll of the Apocalypse is on the floor on the other side of the Gate in my closet. You’re welcome.”
“Heh. Thanks, nicely done. Though it would have been nice if you could have left the decoy…”
I shook my head. “Sorry, man. Didn’t have the time. It opened, and we grabbed the climbing gear and jumped.” In truth, I was still ticked at Cael for letting Alocer mess with Emily’s head. As much as I’d liked to have unloaded on him, there was too much value in staying on Cael’s good side.
“Don’t worry about it.” Cael answered. “I’m just glad you succeeded. How did you finally open the portal?”
“Not entirely sure.” I answered. “But I think emotions had something to do with it. Like, the first time it almost opened, I was angry. And the second time…” I remembered the all-consuming lust that had overtaken me. “...it was something similar.”
I snuck a side glance at Emily. Her mouth wasn’t smiling, but her eyes were.
Cael nodded. “So one of the seven deadly sins strengthens your connection to Hell. Interesting.”
Or two of them did, at least. I didn’t really feel like explaining the other one.
“But I’m glad you got it open.” Cael continued. “And thank you for getting the Scroll out. That would have been hard to explain to The Big Guy.”
“We’re just glad to be back. Hell isn’t exactly a great place to go for a Valentine’s date.”
“Understood. I’ll leave you alone now. See you later.” Cael left.
“Oh man.” Emily said, once we were alone. “It is still Valentine’s day.”
“Yeah.” I grunted, as I flopped down onto Emily’s bed. “We may as well be jet-lagged from the time stop. Plus all the running around in Hell…”
“I’m tired too.” Emily said, and sat down next to me. She paused for a moment, started to speak, stopped herself, paused a moment longer, then asked “Was that a serious question, earlier?”
“Before we went into Hell.”
“Ummm…” I tried to remember what Emily was referring to.
“You asked me if…”
Oh. My cheeks went red. “Yeah. So… um… what do you… ah… think about it.”
Her forehead scrunched together. Adorable, as always. “I don’t know.”
Goddammit. I felt my stomach drop. “What do you mean?”
“I mean, I don’t know if I even can be your girlfriend. James, I’m so fucked up. I broke down because I saw my dad’s name on a fucking plaque. I’m a mess. And you’re a great friend and everything, but I’m just… broken.”
My heart joined my stomach in my shoes.
“I’m never going to be able to have a relationship with anyone. Do you know how hard it was to kiss you?”
“Yeah. I’m not normal, James.”
Suddenly, everything clicked into place. “...You’re worried about sex, aren’t you.”
Emily blinked and seemed to deflate. “Y...yeah. I am.”
“You know that being boyfriend and girlfriend doesn’t automatically mean sex, right?”
She blinked again. “It doesn’t?”
“Not at all.” I shook my head. “It just means we’re two people who enjoy going on dates and spending time with each other. Physical intimacy - of any sort - doesn’t have to happen until both people are ready for it.”
I could almost see the gears turning in Emily’s mind.
“If it helps,” I continued. “We almost already are, just from the amount of time we spend with each other at coffee shops and libraries. Is that something you enjoy and want to continue?”
It was Emily’s turn to go bright red. “Yeah.” she answered softly.
“Me too. So your answer is…” I prompted. My heart was almost fluttering in anticipation.
I fell asleep in Emily’s bed that night.
Officer Dakota Jackson
I pulled up to the station, mildly irritated to have been pulled off patrol, and apprehensive about the reason for it. The dispatcher greeted me as I entered: “Good morning Officer Jackson.”
“Good morning. Do you know where the chief is? He asked me to see him.”
“He came in about ten minutes ago, so I’d check his office.”
“Should have guessed. Thanks.”
As predicted, Chief Becker was in his office, with another man in a suit I didn’t recognize. “Officer Jackson.” the Chief said. “Good morning. Close the door, please?”
I complied. “Good morning.”
“Officer Jackson, this is Agent Ramsey, Federal Bureau of Investigation. Agent Ramsey, Officer Jackson.”
I shook his hand. “So what’s the occasion?”
Agent Ramsey spoke. “I’m here about Nigel Butler. My understanding is that you have two open cases against him, is that correct?”
I nodded, understanding why Chief Becker had summoned me. “Sort of. The first case, Mr. Butler was actually the victim; it was a targeted assault in his hotel room. This case we closed after all leads turned up empty.”
“And the second case was for possession of child pornography, which was discovered while responding to the assault call. I arrested Mr. Butler immediately, and questioned his wife. She was formally detained after questioning. I think arraignment is in what, a week?”
“Eleven days.” Becker corrected me. “Or rather, it was. His laptop came back from digital forensics.”
“What did they find?” I asked.
I could have guessed the answer before Chief Becker said it. “Not just possession. Distribution and manufacture too.”
“Fucking hell.” I breathed. “What about his wife Allison?”
“They’re from a mandatory reporting state.” Agent Ramsey explained. “There’s a good amount of evidence to show that Allison Butler knew, but never reported. That’s strict liability, so at minimum, she’s on the hook for failure to report. But this crosses state lines, so it’s federal jurisdiction. The FBI will be taking over the investigation.”
“Fine by me.” I answered, still reeling. “Our detective’s been swamped as of late, but what about the daughter? Emily, I think?”
“She was the victim.” Chief Becker said, bluntly.
“Jesus fucking Christ.”
Agent Ramsey continued. “We’re taking the hotel assault as well, since it’s clearly related. Obviously, it’s nice that Nigel Butler was handed to us on a silver platter, but we can’t be having a vigilante going around.”
“Makes sense.” I answered, still trying to process the scope of his crimes.
“We’re going to expand the investigation to include Nigel Butler’s online contacts. I know we have an airtight case against Nigel himself, but it would have been best to avoid nailing him until we had the whole ring. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen, so we have to work with what we’ve got. We can delay Nigel Butler’s arraignment while the case is transferred to federal court, but we’re effectively on a timeline.”
“And that’s why I called you.” the chief said. “I need two things from you. One, help Agent Ramsey out with taking over the case. Your files, notes, whatever stuff Sanders came up with. Get copies of all of that, as quickly as you can.”
Chief Becker suddenly adopted a much more stern tone. “And two, professionalism. We cannot allow the cases against either Nigel Butler or his contacts to be jeopardized. I know that privately we all hope the bastards burn in Hell, but don’t do anything that some defense lawyer could use to question your impartiality.”
“Yes sir.” I stood up, shook both mens’ hands, and turned to leave.
“And Officer Jackson.” Chief Becker called.
I dragged myself from deep sleep, back into the realm of the living. I wiped the crust from my eyes, and realized that again, I’d spent the night with James. I cast my mind back to last night, to the crazy night that James and I had gone through. The memories came slowly, fuzzed by a long night of hard sleep. We’d gone on a date, and the date had ended with a trip through Hell.
Or was that a dream? It was, wasn’t it?
No, the trip through Hell had actually happened. I’d found the cell reserved for my dad. James and I had retrieved the Scroll of the Apocalypse.
And with a simultaneous shock of elation and surge of trepidation, I remembered something else. Something important.
I had a boyfriend.
Internet Chat Room
18:32:17 →maphunter has logged in 18:32:24 <maphunter> thanlols you there? 18:32:59 <@thanlols> maphunter: 18:33:01 <@thanlols> what’s up 18:33:24 <maphunter> remember you were looking for toxxxic? 18:33:33 <@thanlols> yeah 18:33:37 <@thanlols> .seen toxxxic 18:33:37 <+screwgle> (thanlols) toxxxic was last seen 19 days and 1 hour ago saying: i’ve gotta get going. Flight’s boarding 18:34:37 <@thanlols> why? 18:34:51 <maphunter> I heard something from a little bird 18:35:02 <skivmaster> how little? 18:35:05 <skivmaster> ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°) 18:35:08 <maphunter> thanlols: toxxxic is busted 18:35:15 <@thanlols> shit 18:35:19 <@thanlols> thanks for letting me know 18:35:26 @thanlols banned toxxxic!*@* (+b) 18:35:32 @thanlols removed R:toxxxic from the invite list (-I) 18:35:47 @thanlols set the topic: toxxxic is compromised; do not respond to him if he logs in 18:35:54 <@thanlols> hotdogger: you still know some guys? 18:36:05 <hotdogger> thanlols: yeah, why? 18:36:06 <hotdogger> oh 18:36:07 <hotdogger> fuck 18:36:11 <hotdogger> yeah, I’ll give them a call 18:36:15 <@thanlols> thanks
This chapter was produced with the support of my Hybrid patron:
- Olli Erinko