Disclaimers: No one here is mine, I just like the theology games.
Spoilers: Slayer, Repentance.
Summary: It's just a job.
Ratings Note: R.
Author's Note: One of many Brimstone stories I've wanted to
Acknowledgments: Love to my Webrain for audiencing, and to
Sarah T. for some quick show-related theology.
Feedback: Yes, please. email@example.com
Zeke doesn't keep count.
He used to wonder about that, and the implication of
complacency -- as if he could ever achieve anything like that --
but that wonder didn't last long. After all, his body is the
most accurate calculator he could ever own.
His skin forgets nothing.
Sometimes, when it's dark and some redundant part of his mind
is telling him to sleep, he traces bare flesh in the patterns of
the devil's language. He pretends he doesn't remember the
circumstances, but he thinks that's allowable.
For Zeke, it's easier to remember the pain of each mark's
disappearance, and to try to remember what it had been like
to take each of the strange tattoos in the first place. He
suspects his mind is protecting him from that. After all, it's
not as though the devil would've stinted on the sadism
while using Zeke as his own personal parchment. That just
isn't his... style.
Zeke grins to himself and shifts the muscles of his back. Right
now, he's attempting to blend into the sliver of shadow between
him and the rest of a distressingly well-lit alley. He's not entirely
sure he's comfortable with the idea of sunlit alleys, but it's just
one of the many things he's had to get used to.
It's hard to explore feelings like that, to dig into them and
figure out what his problem really is. First, because he's never
been that kind of guy when there wasn't (Rosalyn) a woman
around to impress with his sensitivity. Second, because he's
not sure whether his discomfort has more to do with the state
of existence than with anything reasonable, sane, and
He's not human. He is, in fact, inhuman enough to think
horribly unpleasant thoughts whenever he comes across
fictional representations of demons. Because, really... what if?
It's not that he expects the devil to confirm or deny that
individuals have escaped him in the past to wreak havoc on
the lives and imaginations of the innocent. It's more that he
*knows* the devil will do his -- heh -- damnedest to stay
just ambiguous enough to make him even more
uncomfortable. What would make you squirm the most,
Ezekiel -- that's what his eyes would say.
Zeke squeezes his own eyes shut and takes a deep breath to
combat the usual feeling of breathless relief and equally
breathless horror. He doesn't keep count, but he's raw all
Except for the conspicuously numb place over his heart
where the last tattoo waits to be erased.
Zeke's almost entirely sure he knows what he's doing with this.
That is to say: he has the same level of surety that he's had
for the past two years or so; the same sense that he's on the
right track of one of the devil's own, even though there isn't
the easiest trail to follow. It used to amaze him how many
of the escapees were just trying to live normal lives, if not
actively trying to repent for the lives they led before being
sent to hell.
Now... there's a part of him that's completely inured to the
devil's veiled threats and insinuations, and it's the part of
him he remembers being terrified by when he was a living
cop who (mostly) worked by the living's rules. Apathy creeps,
and he can still feel the way his lip curled when he would look
at some old bull of a cop, counting the days until retirement
and looking at everyone the same way: another problem to
be handled, or perhaps just dumped on the next sorry son of
There was a time when he honestly believed he'd never
become one of those people, but that time had been over long
before he took a bullet to the face. When he's honest with
himself, he can admit that it was over long before Jax, even.
And that makes him wonder if it all would've happened the
same way if he'd been a better man.
It's not that he has all that many regrets -- not about his
actions, in any case -- it's that...
He lives in a universe where God really is just as merciless
and unforgiving as the meanest, most ignorant religious
assholes always believed. A world where even people who
have *learned* all the lessons that could be taught about
repentance and salvation must still be punished. What
good was Hell if the lessons learned could never be
applied to the real world?
Zeke spends as little time as possible thinking about that
one. No man could remain sane knowing what he knows
about God. Faith is a pale, ridiculous shadow compared to
certainty. He's tried it anyway, though. He's read enough
bibles to make himself sick with contradictions and he's
tried to imagine a universe where all the penitents killed
at his hands are somehow redeemed in a place beyond
A mangy, skinny dog slinks into his alley and pauses, sniffing.
When it growls at him -- they all do, now -- Zeke just looks
at it until it slinks away again. He distinctly remembers being
a dog person, once upon a time. He was going to buy a
puppy for Rosalyn's birthday. Something small, fuzzy and
uncomplicated. Something that would make her laugh
It's not outside the realm of possibility that the universe
actually encourages redemption. The devil has no reason
*not* to fuck with Zeke's head on this, and every reason
to enjoy playing God to Zeke's Abraham. Reading the book
of Job just made Zeke wonder how many *other* things the
devil had put God up to over the years.
"You're getting cynical in your dotage, Ezekiel."
He doesn't look around. He's gotten used to the devil's
entrances. "Not too many optimists in Hell."
"On the contrary! Hell wouldn't be half so hellish for some of
my guests if they didn't hope for release."
"I never hoped."
"Mmm. The sweet smell of nihilism in the morning. Really, Ezekiel,
I'd think you'd be a bit more cheerful today." The devil slipped
around in front of him and traced a rune Zeke wished he didn't
understand as well as he did. "Soon you'll be alive again! Free
to go back to your wife -- oh, wait, she's dead, isn't she?"
He can't stop a flinch. He wishes he could stop trying. "At least
she's not yours."
"Sure of that, are you?"
"Don't bother. Rosalyn never did anything that would put her
in your hands."
"Would love be so sweet were it not so blind?"
The devil's smile has a curious quality. It doesn't matter where
you're looking, or if, say, you're tall enough that the devil's
chosen form lurks below your line of sight. His smile curves in
a way to draw the eye, glints as bright and cruel as a knife. It
hurts to look at -- nothing like this should be allowed in
daylight -- and it's impossible to avoid. Zeke squints a little and
forces himself not to move, not to speak, not to engage.
The devil sighs, his face twisting into an exaggerated pout.
"You're no *fun* anymore, Zeke. You used to be my favorite
toy, and now you're all... broken."
There's a scent in the air like dead flowers left to decay
someplace dry and full of dust. It's something he's noticed with
a few of the escapees, and not just the women. Hasrubal had
smelled like it.
Back then, he'd thought it was just a conceit. The man had
certainly dropped enough hints to suggest... and even then,
Zeke was willing to look at it as a cultural thing. Maybe all
homicidal and sociopathic Carthaginians wanted to smell like
grandma's underwear drawer.
He knows better now, and his gun is in his hand before he has
to think about it. Nine shots, fully loaded and ready to go. Just
like yesterday, the day before, and the night he never got to
pull it at all.
There's a special sort of shame in dying ignobly, with your
own gun holstered and secured.
He wonders what, if anything, he smells like to his fellow
damned. Machine oil, probably. The devil.
The devil, who is currently resting his chin on Zeke's shoulder,
making himself an adult-sized parody of a curious child.
"I'm surprised you tracked her down so easily, Ezekiel."
"She wasn't hiding." She, of course, being his... target for the
day. Eleanor Bixby, husband murderer. Abuse survivor.
Current head of her own, personal, walk-in shelter for living
"Mm. Still. She's led a practically *saintly* existence since
getting out of hell. Hardly a crime committed, really. Certainly
nothing to grab your attention. But... well. You've stopped
looking for the criminals, haven't you?" The devil gives Zeke
a little squeeze. His smile does its best to drag Zeke's
attention from the slowly emptying street.
Zeke considers replying, but rejects the idea. It's not an
argument he wants to have.
"You know, you're going to fulfill Ms. Bixby's worst nightmares
in a few minutes."
Zeke swallows, and imagines himself with a throat full of
crumbling rose petals. Considers vomiting on the devil's shoes,
but then he remembers that he hasn't eaten in a few days.
"I mean, there you are, a large man lurking in the shadows,
just waiting for her to step outside before you... pounce. It's
a shame you're only going to kill her."
Rosalyn, curled in on herself and weeping, livid skin on white tile.
The image still comes, regular as clockwork, but... it has
become overexposed. She bleeds into the white of the rest of
the bathroom. The boundaries fade and become meaningless.
The wince is more reflexive than he wants it to be.
"Oh, Ezekiel. You're really not doing well at *all*, are you?"
He doesn't have time to think of a decent answer before the
lights go off in the shelter. The sudden darkness is enough to
make him blink, but he'd planned for that. He's close enough
to the mouth of the alley to be waiting when Eleanor finally
gets outside. He's tuned into her enough that sight isn't as
much of a problem as it could be.
Her scent, her after-work sighs, the click, click, click of her
feet on the floor, the steps, and finally the pavement.
His first good look at her is enough to give him pause, even
with the devil jabbing him in the kidney hard enough to draw
a thin, ticklish trickle of blood. She's tall, built broad, and
walks like a man. He's gotten his ass kicked more than enough
to take an extra amount of care when faced with things like
But... God. To have this done with.
He chokes down another half-imaginary throat-full of dead
flowers. "Eleanor," he calls, and the first shot is off even as
she turns. The next takes barely another blink, and the woman
flares and crumbles before she can say a word.
The last tattoo doesn't burn any more or less than the others
did. Zeke's not sure if he's disappointed by this or not. He's
not sure of much these days.
The devil slips in front of him, looks him up and down like
meat for long moments before clapping him on the shoulder.
Gives him a faux-paternal shake that makes his teeth rattle.
"Well, Zeke, I'm proud of you."
"Just get on with it."
"Oh, on the contrary. You have to let me have my *moment*."
Zeke squeezes his eyes shut for a count of five. "I want. My
"You know, that's interesting. Because, well, I can think of
any number of people who'd consider the opportunity to roam
the earth as a superhuman being to be -- you'll pardon me --
a *hell* of a second chance."
He can't look away from the devil's mouth, from spit-shiny
teeth that look like they want to be fangs, or maybe something
else entirely. "That wasn't the deal," he manages, even
though he can't look above the devil's nose.
"Hmmm... wasn't it?" The devil prods Zeke's chin with his
fingers, forcing him to look up into eyes that twinkle with the
blackest good humor imaginable. "Kidding. I kid because I
love, Ezekiel. You're right, of course. That *wasn't* the deal."
Zeke breathes through his nose and waits for the other shoe
"But then, neither was you becoming such a marvelously
cold-blooded killer." The devil beams exactly like a child
performing his first magic trick.
"What... that isn't --" Zeke cuts himself off and tries to back
away, but the devil has him by the hair. "No..."
"Oh, *Ezekiel*. That righteous passion that led you into my
arms with Jax was one thing. This... this guiltless -- dare I
say it? -- execution of your plans and schemes is quite another
entirely. Honestly, I never thought you had it in you."
And it's hard to hear the devil over his own useless breaths,
hard to understand anything beyond tricked! And cheated! And
oh, how could he have believed anything else would happen?
"... not true. I always knew. You have to know there's a reason
why I chose you in the first place, yes, Ezekiel? You, above all
others?" The devil rubs his thumb over Zeke's cheekbone.
Does it again when Zeke shudders. Pushes still closer, until
they're body to body and Zeke can smell the flowers on the
devil's breath, the flowers and the smoke and the blood. "No.
No, this isn't... I won't --"
"Oh, Ezekiel. What would you even *do* with your freedom?
At least, with me, you'll always have job security, health
benefits, and a nice little place down south for when you
finally *do* retire..."
Zeke shakes his head mutely, or tries to. The devil is holding
"Which may be a lot sooner than you think."
And there are a million things he could say, most of them
variants on 'you can't do this,' all of them equally ridiculous.
As to the question of what's fair... He's surprised when he
hears himself start to laugh, but it feels good. Like taking a
breath. Because, really, it's not as though he had anything
planned for his freedom beyond dying in a state of grace.
Now... well, now there are a few more options, aren't there?
The devil looks puzzled for a moment, but it doesn't last.
The smile is back, even broader and slicker than before.
"That's the spirit, my boy. I think we're going to do great
things together. *Big* things. Things that'll make killing one
hundred and thirteen men, women, and children seem
downright petty in the grand scheme of things."
And the devil leaves him there with one last caress.
Eventually, Zeke slips deeper into the alley, watching from
the shadows and sinking into a crouch he knows will be
comfortable for hours. Maybe by then he'll have stopped