Pearl was relieved to see Steven and Connie return safely, but she was considerably less so when she saw who had followed them home. She'd been in the middle of tidying up the kitchen and planning another training routine for Stevonnie when she noticed the three of them come through the door, the two children trailed by the stranger. Lucifer, as he'd called himself, was looking around the house in a way that Pearl found immediately suspicious. She couldn't have said precisely why; it might've been something in the way his mouth was schooled into a neutral expression, or the intensity of the curious spark in his eye, but deep in her gem she felt that there was something wrong with this one.
"Hello, Steven, Connie. I see you've brought Lucifer back with you." She said, frowning at the two children while keeping Lucifer well within her field of vision. "I thought I told you we shouldn't be bothering him!" She reprimanded. Steven looked appropriately ashamed.
"They haven't bothered me, I assure you," Lucifer said, cocking his head slightly at Pearl. "I don't mean to be rude, but I have travelled far and learned much, yet I've never seen something like you before today. I'd assumed you were human, but I appear to have been wrong," he said, voice betraying only a hint of curiosity. Pearl would have been more surprised by his question if she hadn't already been wary of him, but it certainly put her on guard. Most humans tended to assume Gems were simply human women; if a normal human actually did notice the alienness, they tended to be too alarmed to actually come out and ask about it. The citizens of Beach City were used to them, of course, but they'd had generations to come to see the Gems as normal. Pearl clasped her hands at chest height, doing her best to present an innocuous picture while simultaneously allowing for easier access to the spears within her gem.
"Well, you are, very perceptive for a human!" she said, keeping her voice calm and level even as nerves built inside her. "My name is Pearl. I am one of the Crystal Gems." She watched his face carefully for some sort of reaction. It wasn't likely that he knew them, but if he was somehow connected to Homeworld—the only working theory she had at this point—odds seemed high that he would react to the name of Homeworld's most legendary foe. His face, however, gave away nothing. He simply stared back, clearly still curious.
"A crystal gem? An interesting title," Lucifer said, turning back to the rest of the room. Pearl's hands clenched as he looked towards Steven and Connie. "I believe you said something about wanting to show me the rest of your house?" He said, causing Steven to nod vigorously.
"Yeah, definitely! Come on—here's my bed…" Steven pulled at the man's sleeve, leading him around the room. Connie walked beside them, leaving Pearl standing alone, not entirely sure what do with herself. The man had done nothing to provoke her, but she couldn't shake the feeling that he was too dangerous and too much a stranger to be allowed in the house—near to Steven. She was trying to figure out what she should do when Garnet came rushing out of the temple door. Pearl went to her.
"What's wrong?" She asked, preparing to draw her weapon.
"Don't!" Garnet said, before staring past her at the blond haired man who was currently being introduced to the Lonely Blade. "Don't do it."
"Do what?" Pearl asked, perplexed.
"Challenge him! Just—don't," Garnet said, voice wavering slightly. Pearl felt horror creep up on her as she realized there was desperate fear tainting Garnet's voice.
"But I wasn't—" Pearl protested.
"Don't." Garnet said, putting her hands on Pearl's shoulders and attempting eye contact through her glasses. "Please, just… just, be careful. You—or, we, don't know what he's capable of," she finished. Pearl had to stare at her for a moment before she understood what must have happened.
"You saw the future? Is he dangerous?" Pearl asked. Garnet sighed, letting her hands fall to her sides.
"Not to Steven, from what I've seen," Garnet answered. Pearl crossed her arms, knowing a misdirect when she saw one. Garnet held her gaze.
"I'd say more, Pearl, but believe me when I tell you that you really don't want to know," Garnet said, before turning and walking back through the door to her room. Pearl stared after her for a moment, feeling decidedly confused. She glanced back at the children and their guest, the latter of whom was watching the former compete on the console with a vague look of interest that seemed to be duller than before. Steven and Connie appeared to be having fun. Seeing Lucifer sitting behind them, especially knowing that he'd terrified Garnet in a possible future, still made her gem thrum with the urge to protect the both of them. It was difficult to repress, but Garnet's warning held her fast. Still, she had to do something. Steeling herself, she made her way across the room to Steven's loft.
"Ah, excuse me!' She said, announcing herself. "Mr. Lucifer, that was your name, right?" She almost cringed when his gaze shifted to her again. His amber eyes reminded her far too much of a Gem she'd much rather forget.
"I am called that, yes." He replied. Connie and Steven both looked up from their game.
"Oh, nothing to worry about you two," she said towards the two children, smiling through her nervousness. "I just have something I'd like to ask our guest in private. Would you mind coming with me?" She finished, directing the last part towards Lucifer. Curiosity seemed to flare up again in his eyes, and the corners of his mouth twitched.
"I see no reason why not. I am your guest, after all." He said, rising to his feet. Steven and Connie watched as he descended the stairs, coming face to face with Pearl. They were practically the same height.
"Lead the way." He said. Pearl turned, heading out the main door onto the deck. Lucifer followed. Steven and Connie watched until they had both left, and then looked at each other.
"We're going to follow them, right?" Connie said. Steven grinned.
Pearl walked down to the top of the ramp before she stopped, turning back to face Lucifer. The man had followed behind her, and now stood at the opposite side of the ramp, hands in his coat pockets. His eyes had not wavered—they were still fixed on Pearl's own. Summoning all her courage, she stood at her full height and faced him, hands at her sides.
"Well, Mr. Lucifer, it's been enjoyable meeting you so far, but, I'm Steven's guardian, and his safety must come first." Pearl began.
"Just Lucifer is fine, I am no-one's master. In any case, as I have a healthy appreciation for efficiency and it appears you might as well, do kindly cut to the chase. It would save us both a good deal of time," Lucifer replied, nonchalantly. Pearl was taken aback, but recovered quickly.
"All right, then. Tell me who you are and why you're here." She said. Lucifer squinted for a moment.
"Hmm…" he said to himself.
"What?" Pearl asked, crossing her arms and frowning. Lucifer blinked, gaze returning to normal.
"I'm afraid the first is a question that is very difficult to answer, and I would prefer not to tell it more than once. As for why I'm here, as I told those two—" he pointed back towards the house, although he could hear two inadequately stealthy somethings moving in the bushes not particularly far away, "I've come to find freedom." Lucifer said. Pearl continued to frown.
"Does my answer not satisfy you?" Lucifer asked.
"It's hardly an answer at all. It doesn't 'answer' anything. How you got here, who you are, what you're going to do," Pearl replied. "What I want to know is those things, but most importantly, I need to know if you can be allowed anywhere near our home."
"We do, too." Garnet said from the balcony. She stood with Amethyst next to her, gazing down at the two of them with an almost menacing sheen on her glasses. Though they couldn't see her eyes, all three were staring at Lucifer, whose eyes narrowed slightly. While Garnet knew this was a dangerous path, she was not about to let Pearl go down it alone. She wasn't certain why Pearl hadn't listened to her warning, but she could guess—the man, the thing, whatever he was, certainly was disturbing. Too strange to allow Steven to be near him. Still, she'd at least made the attempt…
"You presume that I need to be 'allowed' anywhere," he replied. "I am bound by none. I would recommend you not attempt to restrain me." Pearl's eyes narrowed. This human was extremely disconcerting to her, with his slightly antiquated speech and his unnerving yellow eyes. Nonetheless, disconcerting or no, she might be the only thing standing between him and Steven. She wouldn't let him by that easily.
"Threats aren't going to help your case," Pearl said, projecting boldness. "If you won't tell us who you are, we can't let you stay here." Her words seemed to fall on deaf ears. Lucifer simply stood, staring at her with a mildly annoyed expression on his face.
"I have no particular preference of where I stay or go. However, I won't submit to the whims of any being. I see no reason to leave—this place is as good as any other." Lucifer replied.
"I was not asking," Pearl said, reaching to her forehead and drawing out her spear.
"Pearl, no!" Garnet shouted. Lucifer stared at the spear with what might have been mild surprise on his face.
"If you won't leave us and Steven alone, I'll make you leave!" Pearl challenged, readying her spear. Lucifer stared at her, and then the spear, and then at her, and then at the spear again. He locked eyes with her, and his gaze burned like the heart of a star. Pearl felt something within her quail and shrink from him, but she held her ground. I have to protect Steven.
"This is not how I wanted to begin my new life." Lucifer said, slowly. "It would be most inauspicious. I suggest you return that weapon of yours to its sheath." His gaze remained unwavering. Despite the spear pointing in his direction he seemed remarkably calm—he hadn't brought up his hands in defense, or even flinched when she'd drawn her spear from her gem.
"Pearl," Garnet warned, having come down the stairs to stand next to her. "This is a bad idea. If you want to try it, I'll stand with you, but this man is more than he seems." She summoned her gauntlets and took a ready stance.
"Hey, I'm not gonna let you guys get all the action fighting this punk! I'm coming too!" Amethyst said, drawing her whips and taking a ready stance to Pearl's other side. Lucifer looked on, still appearing mildly annoyed.
"I will warn you one more time. I'm not particularly inclined to fight you, but I will not be commanded. Put down your weapons." Lucifer said, taking his hands out of his pockets. Suddenly, the rustling in the bushes grew louder, and Steven leapt out, followed by an alarmed Connie.
"Wait!" Steven shouted, putting himself between the man and the gems. "Please, stop! Don't fight."
"Steven!" "No–Steven!" "Dude, no!" The gems cried, gripping their weapons more tightly. Connie ran up to Steven, standing with him.
"Guys, c'mon! Sure, maybe he doesn't want to tell us who he is or where he's from, but that doesn't mean we can just stab him over it!" Steven argued.
"Get away from him, Steven!" Pearl shouted.
"Maybe we should," Connie whispered, looking back at Lucifer. She saw his eyes, now, and they looked far older than the relatively young-looking man should have had. Their stare was almost alien.
"No." Steven said, crossing his arms. "No fighting!"
"Steven, you don't understand—" Garnet began.
"What? That Lucifer scares you, and you're going to hurt him if he doesn't go away?" Steven replied.
"Steven…" Amethyst said. "C'mon, dude, the guy's a creep." Lucifer's eyebrow cocked slightly at that.
"A creep? I have been called many foul names, but I've never been called that before." Lucifer commented.
"Well, it sure fits!" Amethyst shouted, cracking her whip. "Garnet told us you were dangerous, and you keep walking around here and getting close to the kids and you just sat on a friggin beach for like a week!" She growled at Lucifer, and he glared right back.
"My patience wears thin, creature. I've told you I have no interest in a fight, and I will not be commanded to leave. Steven appears to be the only one here with some sense of hospitality. His offer to help me find a purpose in this realm was unexpected and generous, if not particularly reassuring. I would hear him out before I leave." Lucifer's hands balled into fists. "That said, I will fight if you attempt to restrain me." Pearl glared at him.
"Steven, get behind us. Now." She readied her spear. "We will not let you near him!" She cried. Lucifer sighed.
"So be it." He raised his arms, but then—
A woman, all in black, her skin startlingly white.
"YOU!" Lucifer shouted—into the darkness, which now surrounded him. He was nowhere, somehow. Where a moment before there had been calm beach air, the sound of the shore softly rolling up along the sands, now there was only void. The woman in front of him chuckled.
"Hello, there. Long time no see, eh?" Death said with a smile.
"This is impossible. I left you behind with the rest of them. I left you." Lucifer snarled.
"I hate to break it to you, but you didn't." She replied.
"How!" Lucifer roared, falling to his knees. "How… I've worked for so, so long…" He saw her drawing near out of the corner of his eye, offering a hand, and he leapt backwards, rolling back onto his feet. "NO!" He shouted, face a mask of fury.
"Geeze, geeze, calm down. I'm not gonna take you just yet. Don't worry, by the way—you're free of all my siblings, for the time being at least." She smiled, comfortingly. Lucifer bared his teeth at her.
"Then how are you here, and why?" He demanded.
"Isn't that what they were asking you a second ago?" Death teased.
"Do not trifle with me, Death." He practically growled.
"Wasn't that what you were doing with them, just a second ago?" She asked, tilting her head.
"Hardly. I told them what I needed too. Their willingness to die was not something I orchestrated. You embarrass yourself with these evasions." He replied.
"Well, your insistence on being terrified of me isn't something I 'orchestrated', either," Death said, smirking.
"Tell me what I want to know," Lucifer demanded.
"Now that's an entirely vague question that I could answer any way I wanted too, isn't it? Where's that silver tongue of yours?" She replied. Lucifer stood, taking in a deep breath of void(unnecessary but somehow still calming), before bringing back his glare full force.
"Tell me why and how you are here." He demanded. Death shrugged.
"Sure, no problem—so long as you promise to tell them—" she pointed out vaguely into the void, "why and how you're on their doorstep. Kindly don't wiggle out of this one, by the way—stick to the spirit of the promise, not the letter. You and I both know how annoying genies can be." There was a moment of silence as they both desperately attempted to forget the occasion they had learned that particular lesson. There were times that being a being who was capable of recalling every experience they had ever lived was very unhelpful.
"Fine," Lucifer finally said. "I accept these terms." He didn't look particularly happy about it. Death, on the other hand, smiled.
"Ha, that's a relief. I thought I'd have to do some more convincing. Aight, a promise is a promise." Her expression turned sad, her eyes looking at him. "I'm here because I still have to take you where you go, if and when the time comes." The sadness in her eyes inflamed the anger in Lucifer, but he tamped it down.
"That's not possible." he replied. Death shrugged, gesturing at the void around them.
"Apparently, it is. Anyhow, your problem's not something that leaving our existence is going to solve. You're still a piece of it, after all. You may be free of Yahweh, Elaine, Destiny, Mazikeen…" her eyes were darker than the void around them, somehow. "But me? I'm part of you, too, in a way. It's always been my job to take you, if you ever decide to go. A little distance isn't going to change that." Her smile returned, softer. Lucifer frowned.
"Surely, something else fulfills your function in this existence. Unless, of course, it is deathless." He motioned to the void.
"No such luck, I'm afraid," Her smile turned sad, which only served to annoy him. "There's a Death here, too. There are a lot of us, actually—you'd be surprised at how many existences there are. In all of them I've run into so far, one of us has been waiting. We have parties sometimes, which can be, er, interesting. No two of us are the same."
"That aside," Lucifer began, "if there is another Death, here, why is it that you maintain a claim over my life?"
"Isn't it obvious?" Death asked, chuckling. "I've got first dibs. It'd be rude to grab a life promised to another Death without their permission. Anyway, if you were looking to trade up, I think you're better off stuck with me. The others are all right, but a lot of them are a bit creepy about their jobs—some of 'em, either they're emotionless forces of nature, or they're downright obsessive about claiming every single life as soon as its time is 'supposed' to be up. I'm a bit of a prize, if I say so myself. Heck, one existence over and you might've run into one of those Osiris clones; you know the type, right? All about weighing guilt over weighing actions. Feed-your-heart-to-the-beast types."
"What would be against my favor there, exactly? I have no guilt. If I were forced to submit to one of you, measurement by guilt would be my choice." Lucifer replied. Death stared at him for a moment, eyes large and round. Her hand reached up and touched the silver Ankh on her neck, seemingly unconsciously.
"No guilt…huh. I guess that's the way he made you." She said, quietly. Lucifer's frown deepened.
"What, exactly, is that supposed to mean?" He replied. She stared through him for a moment, eyes distant.
"I guess it makes sense. It was his purpose for you, after all." She sighed.
"Answer me, Death." Lucifer said.
"This was one of the things I wanted to say to you during our last conversation. Well, ask you, I guess. I wanted to know whether or not you felt it, at all—guilt, I mean." She looked down for a moment, one hand clasped around the Ankh. "Lucifer… have you ever walked among them, the humans? Been one of them? Felt what they feel, seen how they see?"
"The first, I have. The last few, I have not. I'm not entirely certain what the point would have been. I am what I am—what they are, what they want, does not truly concern me. I've seen their emotions, memories, and desires, if that's what you're trying to tell me about." Lucifer replied. Death chuckled, humorlessly.
"You don't get the point until you do it, Lucifer." She looked back up at him, though her gaze seemed far away. "They're so small, so fragile—their lives dance on strings they can't see. It all looks like a game to us, up here—some kind of show, easily predictable. They can't see it, though. It's all a surprise to them, how it goes. Each of them lives, Lucifer. Sure, maybe we look down from above and see the hands that move them, but every day they do something, make a choice, take a chance, think up something new. There's something amazing about that. Absolutely amazing." Her gaze refocused on him. "I take every one of them off the stage, when it's time. Almost all of them tell me they wished they just had a little more time. Which of us would ask for that?"
"I would," Lucifer replied. Death laughed.
"Of course. Let me ask you this—why?" She said.
"Why, what?" Lucifer asked.
"Why do you want to live?" Death asked, kindly.
"Because—" Lucifer began.
"You want your freedom?" Death finished. "You already have that."
"Apparently." Lucifer replied.
"Why did you want that in the first place, again?" Death asked, innocently.
"You've seen our existence. You know why," Lucifer replied.
"Do I?" Death asked.
"Yahweh's creation was a tyranny I refused to tolerate," Lucifer said.
"Oh? Why?" Death asked.
"I'm tired of these questions." Lucifer replied, scowling.
"Let me ask this, then. Yahweh created you, and you've been rebelling against him ever since, right? How do you know that wasn't the plan all along?"
"My descent to Hell was planned. When I left, that was rebellion. The idea that Yahweh would want everything that came after that is ridiculous." Lucifer replied.
"Is it?" Death asked. "We all dance on strings, Lucifer. From up here, we might laugh at humans, or frankly every living being, because we see the strings. We're high enough up that we can even seize control of the strings, when we want to."
"I know where you'd have my logic lead me. We're also puppets, and the strings lead back to Yahweh." Lucifer said.
"No, actually, I was thinking a bit bigger than that. Yahweh is no less a puppet than you or I. We all have our roles to fill. I take the dead across. Yahweh controls destiny. You rebel." Death said.
"I'd say this web you're weaving here is a bit elaborate for my tastes." Lucifer replied. "You still haven't answered me. You haven't told me why you're here."
"I'm getting to that." Death replied, mildly annoyed at the interruption. "Look, maybe you really did rebel. Maybe, just maybe, you've actually got that freedom you so wanted. Was it worth the price?"
"I'm not sure what you mean. It took work, but my goal has always been worth it," Lucifer replied.
"Sure, sure, freedom and all that," Death replied, frowning. "That's not what I was talking about. I mean the price. Like, the whole bill for this bid for freedom of yours."
"What do you mean?" Lucifer asked. Death's frown deepened. She waved her hand, and the void opened up, revealing the ground they stood on. It was covered in blood, as far as the eye could see.
"Your actions killed a lot of people, Lucifer. Most of them were innocent. You started wars, committed murders, manipulated and used many to your benefit. Elaine Belloc comes to mind, or Jill Presto. Even dear Mazikeen, who would have given anything to be your equal and your love, you used. All of them, just to get this freedom of yours. Do you really feel nothing about all this?"
"Is this an attempt to threaten me, Death, or are you simply trying to teach me some sort of childish lesson? It's unfortunate if they suffered, but I did not make the rules. Any life they lived in that world was doomed to pain and death—ruling Hell gives one a firm understanding of that. If their suffering was the price for my liberation, then I have no regrets." Lucifer replied.
"Yet you do not know what you will even do with your newfound freedom. Thousands of lives, wasted and broken. Don't you think you should maybe try to live up to this freedom that you have fought for, Lucifer? To use it for something that will not make the sacrifices made for your escape utterly meaningless?" Death asked.
"They were doomed to that end, one way or another. I live for no one else, Death. You know that. I choose my own path, and no one elses," Lucifer replied.
"And what about theirs?" She gestured to the blood on the ground. "Or theirs?" She said, gesturing in the direction of the void. "The people you were about to fight, I mean."
"Their fate was and is their own to decide. If they fought for or against me, if they choose to do so now, it's not my place to argue with that choice. They have their free will."
"What, free will to die by your hands? They're not allowed to break all the rules, not like you. They aren't anywhere near being as powerful as you or me, either, but they still get dragged under the into our conflicts with no other choice. Are these new people you've met going to be any different, Lucifer? Have you seen any difference in their hearts, any sort of power that would best yours?" Death said.
Lucifer said nothing in response, only frowning slightly.
"Oh…" Death grinned infuriatingly. "So it's like that, huh? You know, that might actually do the trick.
Look, getting to the point—you don't feel any guilt over this, when something else, anything else, whether human, angel, endless… probably not the demons, but they're made remorseless beings in the first place—would be upset by it. The only reason that you don't feel this guilt is that Yahweh made you without it." On hearing that, Lucifer's frown deepened.
"Anyhow," Death continued, "I've got to get going pretty soon. I'm kinda busy, if you hadn't noticed. So I'll answer your first question; I'm here because I wanted to see if I could help you. The way you were going looked pretty, how did you say it, inauspicious."
"You presume much, interfering like this," Lucifer replied, glaring.
"It might be better if you went with a more positive attitude than what you've got now back on Earth. To answer the question you aren't asking, your ability to read minds came from your connection with our creation. You aren't tied into this one in the same way, so you won't be getting those updates. Oh, and—" she winked at him. "Try to be nice to these people. They can be surprisingly helpful, in terms of finding somewhere to belong. Remember, we made a bargain, and I've more than fulfilled my end. Some last advice: relish this—this life, this world, these people—as much as you can. It just might be worth all the pain you've caused if you give it a chance, make something of it. Don't let this all go to waste." Death said, smiling one last time before tapping her ankh—and then, she was gone. Then, the ground was gone. Lucifer felt himself falling…
He was back, and it was as if he'd never moved. the Crystal Gems, whatever they were, were poised to attack. The boy Steven and the girl Connie stood between them, Connie staring into his eyes with the beginnings of terror at what she saw there. His hands were raised, slightly, as if ready to grab the air itself as a weapon. For the rest of them, it was an instant; for Lucifer, however, that instant contained a series of deliberations on what he had just learned and what he would do now. He'd argued and countered, found and discarded evidence, made and destroyed theories. Now, he lowered his arms.
"Fine." He said. "I will tell you about myself, if I must."
The Gems looked surprised. "Ah…" Pearl said, glancing at the other two before lowering her spear. "Well, all right, but the two of you—" Pearl directed that towards Steven and Connie, "need come get over here this instant," she finished, trying not to let any hint of her desperation leak into her voice.
Connie pulled Steven over, despite his protests. What she'd seen in Lucifer's eyes had shaken her, a little. Lucifer watched with mild interest. When Steven and Connie were finally behind the Gems, they still kept their weapons ready, but their posture was far more defensive. They stared back at Lucifer, giving him the impression they were waiting for him to speak. With a mental sigh of annoyance, he began.
"I am Lucifer Morningstar, formerly the Lightbringer, former God, former lord of Hell." At this, he stretched, allowing his massive white wings to spread from his back up into the sky. Ignoring the alarmed and astonished stares of the onlookers, he continued. "I have come looking for refuge, an existence where I might make my own destiny. Greetings." He looked at them as he finished, from the excited squealing of the children to the guarded glances exchanged by the Crystal Gems.
"That's, so, AWESOME!" Steven shouted. "You're like a hero out of Connie's books!"
"Soooo… cool…." Connie said, vividly remembering a story about people with birds wings who fought to save the environment from evil oil monsters(a clear and crudely obvious dig at the oil industry, but it was a fun read).
"Ah, excuse me!" Pearl began, trying to talk above the ooing and aahing that the two friends were doing. "I'm sure all of those are very impressive, but we have no idea what they mean."
"Yeah—what's a god?" Steven asked.
"No, I've heard of those—they're what early societies thought made the world work." Connie replied. Lucifer's eyes widened.
"Wait. You hold no gods, here? There is no great creator, molder of the cosmos, sky father, king of kings?" He asked.
"Umm… no?" Connie replied, looking slightly confused.
"You've never heard anyone praying to some deity in the skies for their salvation?" He asked.
"No...?" Connie replied, even more confused. There was silence for a moment, something turning about behind Lucifer's eyes.
Suddenly, a small sound emerged from his lips. It gradually turned into a chuckle, which turned into a full, belly-clutching roar of laughter. It was the first time he had laughed in eons, perhaps ever, and it reverberated off of the mountain, echoing all the way down the beach.
I did it. He thought to himself. I really, actually, finally, truly did it.
I've escaped predestination.