With this, Hereafter is officially concluded. Please, keep an eye out for my next story. With a baby on the way, my time will be getting a touch less free. That said, I intend to finish my current works, get this story revised for formal publishing, start new stories, and work on a sequel. I will never sleep again!
Nick's eyes popped open. He groaned and rubbed his face before levering himself up and out of the bed he shared with his wife. It still felt odd for him to think of her that way, but it brought a smile to his face. It was a comfort in the strangeness they'd been enduring since their binding.
Dreams were not a comfortable place for demons. That was one of the many reasons they seldom slept. For Nick, however, they had been more of a concern. Lacking most of his memories gave him a bit of cushion against the horrors of his subconscious, but in dreams that buffer was gone. Predicting what unpleasantness could wriggle out of the depths of his mind had been a fool's errand—one he happily avoided.
Then the angel had happened.
Now, he had his memories and sleep was bearable. The burden of his mind was less painful as it was no longer his to bear alone. Unfortunately, the same ordeal that had given him his rabbit had provided a further complication. Or two. The periodic intrusions of the Empyrean Fire into his consciousness was not something Nick enjoyed. He already had the remnant of Lucifer rattling around in his head, so another voice was just a nuisance. The interruptions always came at the most inopportune of moments.
Water flowed from an ewer into a stone cup in his paw as he heard the sheets rustle behind him.
"The dreams again?" Judy asked blearily.
Nick grunted the affirmative. "That and Lucifer."
"What was it this time?" He heard her paws on the flagstones accompany the words. "All I got was some kind of blueprints."
"That was his dissertation on the construction of Tartarus. Exactly what we needed at…" He glanced at the clock on the wall. "Two forty-seven in the morning."
"We're lucky, I guess. We each only get one of them full blast. I doubt I could handle two." Judy sighed and filled her own cup. "Mine was a commentary on infrastructure changes we should implement once we've claimed our thrones."
"Riveting." Nick's tone was sardonic, but worry took root in his mind. "Let's try to get a little sleep while they're both distracted."
"Probably wise." She laid a paw on his arm. "I know this was supposed to be our honeymoon, but—"
"But we have too much to do. Still, we had three good days off." Nick shrugged. "Once Heaven and Hell are sorted out, we'll take a vacation. Maybe come back to the Mortal Plane for a breather?"
"I'd like that." Judy held up a finger. "But a working vacation."
"Really?" Nick groaned. "Couldn't we just lounge on a beach?"
"We'd both get bored. I'm not saying we need to do anything huge," Judy assured him. "Just a little light work to keep us sharp."
Nick huffed a laugh and curled around his little angel. "We'll discuss that tomorrow."
"After breakfast." She cooed as she settled in.
He smiled as his paw snaked across her belly. "Might be a late breakfast."
All he got in return was a hum of satisfaction. Moments later, Judy was breathing deep and peacefully. Nick, on the other hand, struggled. They'd each had their evening's discussions—his with Luci's simulacrum and her with the Fire—but Nick had seen something else as well.
Just for a moment, he'd seen a desolate plane with a figure standing over it. As is the way of dreams, nothing felt real or false. Everything looked as though it was under moving water, shimmering and indistinct. As he approached, the figure's details resolved slightly—momentarily solidifying before growing shadowy again.
The wings were huge, featherless and obsidian black. He wore worn, dusty armor and carried himself proudly despite a haggard demeanor and obvious weariness. The staff he leaned on was thick and carved. It felt familiar, but the details remained foggy.
Finally, in that endless moment, Nick saw his apparition's face. He was willing to write it off as a dream until the figure turned to meet his eyes. The rest of his perception bled into murk, leaving the face of his visitor crystal clear for one heartbeat.
Nick felt as though he was looking into a mirror. The other fox was his spitting image. The cheeks and muzzle were the same, as were the brow and ears—practically identical in every way. It was the eyes that unsettled him. They were cold, hard and hollow to the pith, but the part that scared him was the color—they were a brilliant amaranthine.
Just like Judy's.