Summary: Our favourite tortured boys are back in this third and final instalment in which they try to outrun Hell.
Notes: See chapter 1 for disclaimer warnings and related info. A little delay between chapters...sorry about that. Hope you enjoy this next part. Perhaps a small tissue warning is appropriate...
Oh My God
She winks at me and Her eyes beam, alive with compassion, love, hope, as She nods.
“My grandma is God?” I ask again in disbelief.
“I take the form of your choosing, child. So what is it that we need to discuss?”
I just stare blindly at the wall for a moment, looking for words. “My grandma is God,” I repeat, trying to wrap my mind around this.
“Everyone’s grandmas are God,” She replies.
I breathe deep and try to remember what I was gonna say. “I … can’t think,” I say, blinking as I look at Her again.
“Would you rather I took a different form? I’ll be anything of your choosing.”
“No!” I shout, not wanting Grandma to leave.
She chuckles the way She used to when I was little and would close my eyes to sneak spoonfuls of cookie dough figuring, if I couldn’t see, then She couldn’t either. She reaches for my hand, holding it in both of Hers. “You needed something from me, child.”
I close my eyes to calm my whirring thoughts, then open them and start in on the words I’d rehearsed so carefully. “What if Lucifer wanted to come back to Heaven?”
“That’s a big ‘what if,’” She answers, Her face neutral.
I nod. “Huge. But I think it’s true.” I catch myself. If this is gonna work, I have to be more convincing. “No. I know it’s true. He’s changed. He wants forgiveness.”
She brings a finger to the side of Her nose and taps it there. “You’re quite sure about that?”
The pendant throbs on my chest. “Yes.”
She looks at me a moment longer, familiar worry lines creasing Her brow, and I feel myself start to shake. Suddenly, I’m anything but sure. I feel the pendant’s energy flare and it feels dirty and dark. I want it off. I lift my hand to pull it over my head but then stop. I don’t want Grandma to see it … to know I have it.
“I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.” My words are a plea, and I don’t realise I’m crying until Grandma lifts Her hand and wipes a tear off my cheek with Her fingers.
She stands from the couch and paces to the table next to Grandpa’s worn recliner, where he keeps his pipe stand. “Your path is your own,” She says, fingering the pipe with a melancholy smile. “And your strength is your own,” She adds with a pointed glance at me, Her fingers drumming Her chest, just where the pendant lays on mine. “You have great potential, but how you use it is up to you.”
“So … would you let Him come back?”
“My dear boy,” She says, and I shudder hearing those old, familiar words coming from Her mouth again. “My boy, he’s always had the option to return.”
“Seriously? He can come back? Just that easy?”
Her sad smile tells me it’s anything but easy. Which means I was wrong. My purpose isn’t convincing God to let Lucifer come home.
“What does He have to do to come back?”
“Forgiveness is the key to everything, but forgiveness can only be given to those who wish it.”
Forgiveness is the key to everything. I flash back to John saying those same words to me not that long ago.
“John!” I gasp. “I put him in danger by making him think…” I grimace and drop my head. I was so stupid, using my Sway to try to persuade him Lucifer was good. How was I so easily convinced?
She glides over to me and strokes my cheek. “He can’t be killed, but he’s changed from the John you knew.” Her hand travels to Ianto’s shoulder, where he’s still kneeling on the carpet. “Rise, my son.”
Ianto stands, but still doesn’t look at Her. I grasp his hand, but he doesn’t squeeze back. His hand just lies limply in mine.
Her gaze falls heavily on me. “Lucifer is correct on one point. There does indeed need to be a shift in the balance, and you’re the one who can bring that about … with a little help,” She adds with a squeeze to Ianto’s shoulder.
“Lucifer may rule Hell, but he did not create it.”
“I don’t understand.”
“He is the self-proclaimed ruler of the Abyss, and under his guidance it has become something it was never meant to be.” Her gaze softens as She brushes the backs of Her fingers over my cheek. “Do you understand the true purpose of Hell, Jack? Why I created it?”
“To punish mortals who sinned in life?” I ask.
The doleful set to Her face makes Her look suddenly older. She shakes Her head slowly, and Ianto speaks up.
“To redeem souls for Heaven through penitence,” he says, his head still bowed, earning a soft smile from Grandma.
Grandma’s whole face glows when He smiles. “This is true, young man.”
“I thought that was Purgatory,” I say, confused.
“Purgatory,” She answers, “is where souls are sanctified for their entrance to Heaven. It’s a place for those who have died in grace and are marked for Heaven to, as the name would imply, purge their sins and shed their biases in preparation for a life of eternal glory in the Kingdom. Those souls are already Heaven bound. The souls in Hell, however, can choose to stay there, or they can choose to earn their way to Purgatory.” She pauses, lifting a finger to Her temple. “At least that’s how it was supposed to work.” She turns to Ianto. “So, young man, do you recall Lucifer ever giving a soul up to Heaven?”
Ianto slowly lifts his head and looks at Her. “No.”
Grandma nods. “And he never will.” Her expression is solemn. “Lucifer has corrupted Hell. He actively tempts mortals down the path, never intending to give them up to Heaven when they repent. There are souls in Hell who have been unjustly condemned.”
Ianto’s head bows deeper and I hear him pull a long, shaky breath, making me wonder how many of those souls he’s directly responsible for. His mournful eyes lift briefly to mine and the pain I see crushes my heart.
Grandma kisses my forehead. “The time has come for you to make your choice, dear boy. You have a gift. It’s within your power to right Lucifer’s wrongs, but you have no less free will than any other of my children. You can choose to live your life, just as you have been, or you can become more.” She smiles at Ianto’s bowed head. “But, whatever you choose, keep your young man close. You will need him.”
Everything ripples, like heat off sun-baked pavement.
I reach out to Grandma. “No! Wait! What happens if I—”
But before I can finish the thought, lightning crackles all around me, making the hair on my arms stand on end, and Grandma is gone. Everything around me shifts in the mist and I’m back at the gorge, staring across at John’s and Gray’s broken bodies.
“What do I do?” Jack says, staring across the Abyss at his brother. He turns to me. “Tell me what to do!” he pleads.
“The choice is yours, Jack,” I answer, knowing what my choice would be if I could make it for him. I’d get down on my knees and beg him to choose the safe course if I thought he’d listen. But I can tell by the determination in his eyes as he gazes across the rift at his brother and John that, whether he knows it or not, he’s already decided. It’s right there to see. He’s not taking the safe route.
He glances to me for an instant, and when he locks my gaze in his I know I’m right. A fire burns behind his eyes that I’ve never seen there before. He squeezes my hand with a sad smile, and my heart crumbles as he lets me go and steps onto a jagged precipice that extends over the opening. I watch as he breathes deep and holds his arm out to Lucifer. “I’m coming,” he calls.
He only hesitates for a heartbeat at the lip of the rift before closing his eyes, drawing a deep breath, spreading his arms and stepping headlong into it.
I lunge for him, meaning to pull him back from the precipice, but I’m not quick enough. The gasp and murmur from the other side of the standoff is audible over the rumble of the ground that closes like a bridge in front of him with every step.
I gain my feet and start moving forward again.
“What’s happening to him?”
Daniel’s voice behind me is almost lost in the wind swirling up. As I turn to look at him I see he’s got Ellen in his arms, holding back her desperate attempt to cross the bridge and get to Jack. The rest of his family is huddled together behind them. And beyond them, the cavern pulses with white energy. Four immense angels hover just above the ground, ageless and boundless, blinding me with their radiance.
Gabriel, the warrior and God’s Left Hand, stands at point, his triple wings spread as if ready to lead the charge at a moment’s notice. Raphael and Uriel watch Jack’s progress closely. But Michael can’t help taking a moment to spare me a disgusted smirk.
I swallow hard and turn back to Daniel, not sure how to answer his question. “Take your family back there,” I say, moving toward Jack’s bridge. “Stay behind the archangels.”
“The…” he starts, but trails off as he looks behind him at the spectacle.
Setting my resolve, I turn and move to the stone bridge Jack leaves in his wake. As I step onto it, the Lake of Fire roils forever below, a kaleidoscope of gold, red, and indigo.
Home sweet home.
The smell of sulphur is stronger here above the rift. It burns my nose and makes my eyes water. I move across the stone bridge behind Jack, hoping beyond reason that I can be of some use to him. He must sense me behind him, because he turns and holds up his hand, warning me to stop, and I see them—tears streaking his face.
My heart is in my throat as I stand, not ten feet behind him, desperately searching for something I can do or say to keep him on this side of the maw.
Ahead, the blackness swirls, rife with anticipation at the Heavenly charge.
Jack slows to a stop just feet from completing the bridge. “Lucifer,” he calls, his voice heavy with tears but determined. “We had a deal.”
His smile is sympathetic. “And I’ve acted in good faith. Our agreement was that I would return your brother to you.” He plants a bare foot on John’s hip, where he’s struggling to pull himself to his feet, and kicks, sending John sprawling onto his face. “This one must pay the consequences for his actions.”
“No.” Jack says, his voice surprisingly even. “I want them both. We don’t have an agreement otherwise.”
“Come to me and we can renegotiate,” Lucifer answers, a hungry smile flickering over His face.
There is an instant where everything is dead silent. Jack brings his hand to his chest, gripping something under his shirt, then takes the last step to complete the bridge between Heaven and Hell. He glides slowly toward Lucifer. He holds His arms out to him and he only hesitates for a second as he passes Gray and John, glancing down at their broken bodies, before he walks right into His grasp.
My gut churns and something inside my chest collapses. I spin, hoping to find the archangels preparing to intervene, but they only continue to watch. What I also find is that Daniel is as good at following directions as Jack. Jack’s family is standing in a cluster on the bridge behind me.
I step forward, and Suzie moves to intercept me, ranseur in hand.
“No!” I hear Jack call and look up to see him standing in Lucifer’s arms, glaring out at me. “Just let me do this,” he says more quietly, his eyes locking on mine.
My heart lurches and nearly stops as a triumphant sneer creeps slowly over Lucifer’s face. His grasp on Jack becomes more possessive.
Maggie pushes past me and runs to Gray’s side. Suzie steps toward her but Lucifer waves her off. Daniel, Ellen, and the rest of her family follow her across.
Jack’s voice pulls me back to the scene unfolding in front of us. He looks up at Lucifer, folded tightly into His grasp. “You said with me at your side you could return to your true essence, but if you want to return to Heaven, you have to ask forgiveness. Are you ready to do that?”
“I will do what is required, but what I require of you is your pledge. I have fulfilled my obligation…” He gestures toward Gray with a grand sweep of His arm. “Now it is your turn. One word, my love, and everything will be as it should be.”
He stares into His eyes and pulls something up by a strap around his neck.
The Udjat. He still has it.
It pulses at the end of the strap, alive. A red eye—searching.
My blood runs cold. I push forward, but Suzie thrusts the tip of the ranseur into my chest. Hellfire crackles over the surface of it and my T-shirt smoulders.
“No,” Kate says, and before I realise she’s done it, she’s stepped forward and grasped the end of the ranseur.
And where it was scorching a hole in my shirt one second, the next it’s cold as ice.
Suzie looks at her for an instant then throws the ranseur aside. Opting instead for the old-fashioned approach, she grasps my shirt and cocks her fist in front of my face.
“Stop! Call her off!” Jack stands at Lucifer’s side, white and red lightning dancing over his skin as he stares Lucifer down. His gaze gravitates to Gray and John, broken on the ground. “I’ll do what you want,” he says, “but you have to let everyone go. Gray and John too,” he adds, his voice hard.
He looks at him for a long moment, as if assessing His options. “Very well,” He says with a dismissive flick of His wrist.
I shoulder past Suzie as Jack runs to John’s side and skids to his knees. I lower myself to a knee beside him.
John’s eyes crack open and he looks up at Jack. “Hey, beautiful,” he says with a strained smile. “Come here often?”
“John.” He leans in, rubbing blood off his cheek with his thumb. “What happened?”
He shudders just before a grimace twists his face. “Turns out I’m not indestructible after all.” He groans and pain contorts his face.
A tear splashes onto John’s forehead as Jack leans over him. “I’m so sorry.”
Out of nowhere, a blast of red Hellfire hits John and he convulses.
I bound to my feet, positioning myself between Jack and the direction of the maw, where Aaron is standing at the precipice, red lightning crackling over a fist aimed in our direction.
Hell’s newest celestial recruit.
A scorching flash of red Hellfire connects with Aaron, and I look down to see Gray propping himself on one arm and focusing everything he has on Aaron with the other. I watch Aaron’s retaliatory streak of Hellfire splinter as Maggie screams and throws herself over Gray. But Daniel lunges in front of both his children and takes a direct hit.
I’m thrown to the side as something next to me explodes. Blasts of both Hellfire and celestial lightning flash past me toward the maw. I look up to find Aaron paralysed, encased in intertwined streaks of red and white lightning. It crackles and pops all around him for a heartbeat, then seems to focus into a single point and shoot back toward us.
A guttural cry erupts from Jack and I throw myself in front of him. The concentrated mix of celestial and infernal energy rips through me, tearing out my soul on its way to him.
Jack slams into me from behind, but all I can see of him is his hand reaching past me on my right, and instantly the energy is no longer coursing through me. I watch his skin drink in the fierce, dancing, electric charge.
Aaron stands at the precipice, still as stone, and in my waning consciousness, I realise he is stone. Brimstone. Lucifer walks over and pushes Aaron’s shoulder, sending him plummeting backward over the edge of the Abyss. Dimly, at the edge of my perception as I sink to the ground, unable to breathe, I hear the echo of stone pound off the walls of the chasm.
I lay on the ground, struggling for air, and look up into the face of an angel. A weak laugh, no more than a puff of air, leaves my chest at the image of Aaron plummeting into the depths of Hell at the same instant I, the ex-demon, am being lifted to Heaven.
But as I look closer, I realise it’s not an angel I’m seeing. It’s Jack. He’s more than an angel. He’s shrouded in white light, with the flicker of Hellfire dancing over his radiant skin. But his astonishing sapphire eyes are all his as they gaze down into mine, golden tears streaking his iridescent face.
“Ianto,” he sobs.
I try to lift my hand and wipe his tears away. I try to tell him it’s okay. But my body will not heed my mind’s commands. I can feel my heart struggle to keep a rhythm, and I hold on to the image of him for as long as I can. My vision greys around the edges and goes blurry.
Jack lays his head on my chest. “I love you, Ianto.”
I feel his words reverberate through my unresponsive body. I feel his touch, warm, soft, as my heart pounds out the message I can’t make my mouth form. I feel his lips on mine for one excruciating moment.