The title is taken from Hebrews 1:4 - being made so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they. You'll see why.
a more excellent name
A man in a suit that was impeccable even by the standards of the occasion stood at the very back of the Senate House, leaning against a wall. The Proctors looked at him and may even have registered his presence, but not one of them asked him to sit down. He stood with his eyebrows raised and his torso inclined ever so slightly forward, almost as though he was surprised to find himself there.
Graduands and well-wishers thronged out across the campus, a sea of black and charcoal dotted with coloured satin falling across robes. The sea formed clumps, eddies, and gradually dispersed as the sun fell across the sky.
“And how many small animals were killed for that getup?”
Grace Thea Young, BA, turned around and very solemnly stuck out her tongue. “We’re far too PC for that, here. It’s fake.”
Lucifer smiled and ran his fingers along the white fur that edged her black hood. “Your parents didn’t stay long.”
“Pressing business at the estate. I’m lucky they could spare these few hours.” She shrugged and moved to stand beside him, leaning against the high wall, and then sent a look that was somewhere between flirtatious and expectant through her pale lashes. “Well? I believe congratulations are customary.”
His face flickered into an abrupt, blinding smile. “Well, dear, I was going to buy you a small stuffed bear with an adorable academic cap and scroll. And then I woke up.”
“What? Oh. It was all a horrible dream of crass sentimentality?” She pressed a hand to her chest. “How dreadful for you.”
“Bordering on traumatic,” he agreed, and she giggled, and something almost like a comfortable silence reigned for a minute or two.
“You didn’t ask for the Trinitarian to be removed from your conferral,” Lucifer said eventually, turning his head to look at her. “Lots of people did, but not you. Why is that?”
She smiled. “Atheism is a little absurd, considering the circumstances.”
“Thea.” He tilted his chin, wordlessly impatient.
“I know.” She moved her shoulders under the heavy hood, pretending to be uncomfortable in only the physical sense, adjusting how the fabric fell. “It’s comforting, actually. In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sanctii. Something about the implication of family.”
“You have your blessings already.”
“You can never have too many.” A sudden tight flame of a grin, and she linked her arm through his. “Aren’t you proud that I read history and theology and never once brought up the fact that I can technically claim to be the direct great-grand-daughter of God Himself?”
He laughed. “I don’t think that would have gone down too well.”
“After the seminar we spent decimating Dan Brown? No, I don’t think so. Come on, we’re missing the last of the afternoon sunlight.”
“England,” Lucifer declared, “has never experienced real sunlight.” But he let her pull him away from the building and along a thin cement path. Sunlight – real, unreal or surreal – filtered through the ponderous clouds and descended to the grass with careful warmth, striking up shadows. The ground crawled with the penumbral mess of dusk, and Grace’s shoes made a soft scuffing sound as they walked.
“Of course,” she said thoughtfully, her mind skipping back, “it’s a rather large technically. One real birth and two steps of...what? Creation?”
“I was working by precedent,” Lucifer said. There was something there, maybe bitterness; it was enough that she let his arm fall to his side. “Creation. That’s all.”
“I don’t want to –”
She didn’t want to venture too far down this path, not today, but she hadn’t learned enough conviction to stop him from interrupting. Not the dusty practiced Latin of the graduation ceremony, this was polished and hollowed out by his tongue. “Cui enim dixit aliquando angelorum: Filius meus es tu ego hodie genui te.”
“I didn’t read Classics, Sam. I know the ceremony and not much else.”
Something older than bitterness in his face, now. “For to which of the angels hath he said at any time: Thou art my Son, to-day have I begotten thee?”
“Scripture to his purpose,” Grace said easily, removing her mortarboard. “Hebrews?”
“One five. It’s not disowning so much as disavowing the existence of a relationship in the first place.”
She turned the cap in her hands, feeling out the corners with her palms like a blind man navigating the contours of a map, then stilling the motion and letting the tassel fall north-north-east. Experience had taught her that if he wanted to talk this out, then there was nothing for it but to engage. “I suppose I see the point you’re making. I’ll agree that even lacking the label of parentage, you’ve inherited the same philosophy.”
“Adopted, perhaps. Not inherited.” He frowned at the sky.
“All right.” She rolled her eyes. “But family is important.”
“Family is no more real than anything else.”
“My psychotherapist would have a field day with your issues of abandonment and betrayal.” She laughed on the exhale, noiselessly. “I, however, shall say nothing.”
“You have a psychotherapist?” Lucifer opened his mouth in a slow, mocking expression of shock. “Have we told Mummy and Daddy about this?”
“We have not.” She shrugged. “Sam. My dead uncle has a disturbingly non-vocal sexual...thing...with the Prince of Hell, who could technically be considered the father of my father, the Antichrist. Who met my mother, a female knight with major gender issues, in a bar that can be considered the crux of various co-existing realities.” She left a brief pause, and then grinned. “Of course, I don’t go into quite that level of detail, or else I’d have been committed long ago. All things considered, I think I’m remarkably stable.”
“Technically be considered?” Lucifer rolled his eyes. “You do like that word.”
“I’m an academic. Of sorts. Family is important don’t argue but accuracy of nomenclature is too.”
Lucifer gave her a flat look. “Are you ever going to use words of fewer than three syllables again, or are there rules preventing that for Cambridge BAs?”
“Oh, don’t even start.”
“This appears to be leading somewhere.” He pivoted on one foot and walked backwards in front of her, with sure footing and a curious gaze. “Are you giving me a new title for my collection?”
Grace’s mouth twitched. “I had to mark down relation to graduand on the ticket form for tonight, you know. You didn’t quite fit any of the categories.”
“What did I end up as?”
“Friend,” she said, smiling, “which is a polite euphemism for significant other, if one is not married or engaged.”
“Oh, to be in England,” Lucifer said with heavy sarcasm, and then paused. “Were you expecting me to object to that label?”
“I don’t know.” One of her hands fisted in the material of her gown, the folds sliding through her fingers. “Friend. It’s not one you really use, or apply.”
“I won’t argue semantics. But I would have abandoned you to the efforts of your parents at least two decades ago if I didn’t enjoy your company, Thea.” One side of his mouth pulled into an odd, amused angle. “Though I’m fairly sure Adam still thinks I’m just doing it to fuck with his head, so if you tell anyone that my motives are less than malevolent then I’ll obviously have to kill you.”
Grace glanced down and let the shadows swallow her sudden, pleased smile. “I told my friends that you’re a French aristocrat, and I’m just sleeping with you because you buy me expensive things.”
Lucifer looked at her for almost ten seconds before laughing. “Christ, you’re not even kidding, are you?”
“Don’t worry,” she said, patting him on the arm with an earnest look, “the sex is fantastic.”
“I should never have introduced you to Lilly Kane,” Lucifer said, but the laugh was still infusing his voice.
“You just have to don a tuxedo and a seductive accent. Come on, you’ll enjoy it, you know you will.”
“I feel duty-bound, Thea, to point out that an intelligent and attractive twenty-two-year-old should not have to recruit a fake rich lover, but be able to track down a real one.”
She grinned. “I feel duty-bound, Sam, to feed your ego and insist that you’ve ruined me for all other men.”
“There was some tall lawyer type in the picture a couple of months ago.” Lucifer waved a vague hand. “What happened to him?”
Her grin widened. “He met Dad.”
“Oh.” Lucifer laughed. “The patented Adam Young scowl scares away yet another suitor.”
“Besides, he was a bit...boring,” she added unwillingly. “After adapting to Milliways, your perception of normality is shifted a bit.”
“The boy can’t shoot coloured sparks out of his fingers, so he’s not worth it?”
“Don’t bother, Sam,” she said, irritated, “I know you know what I meant. Thom’s going to meet someone very normal and very sweet and be very happy, and Jamie...well, Jamie’s so flighty that he’d probably deny any predictions of monogamy, but some day he’s going to suffer a coup de foudre and he’s going to be a goner. An absolute goner.” She waved a dire finger.
“Therapy or no therapy, Thea, self-pity doesn’t suit you.” He stopped dead on the path, closed a hand about her wrist and squeezed.
She frowned. “I’m not unhappy.”
“But you feel like you should be.” Lucifer made a disgusted sound. “Expectations.”
“They can be there for a reason, you know.” Still snappish.
“And they can be bullshit.” He lifted her hand and, in a single sharp movement, slapped her in the cheek with her own palm. “Wake up. Don’t second-guess happiness. I refuse to escort anyone to their graduation ball if they’re going to dither about, complaining that there should be a hole in their life but there isn’t.”
Grace pulled her hand away, slowly, biting the side of her lip and raising her eyebrows in another very Alanna-like expression. “A French aristocrat who slaps me around. Nice. Maybe I’m planning on suing you for your millions. Displaying the bruises in court.”
Lucifer shook his head. “No more fantastic sex for you, young lady.”
Grace burst out laughing, and took a while to stop. “Sorry,” she gasped, “I’m just…trying to imagine the look on Dad’s face if he’d overheard that last remark.”
A smile rippled across Lucifer’s face. “He’d have enough trouble with your rejection of normality. After all the effort he put into attaining it.”
“I’m not –” She stopped. “All right. But I’m not just...it’s not just about the end of the universe. It’s not just about knowing that there’s more.” She felt as though the gown and cap should be stopping her from fumbling her words this way, but they didn’t help her out. Neither did Lucifer. Grace frowned and forced the idea to lie flat. “Expectations,” she said, eventually. “Standards. I have so many of my own that I don’t think you should renounce me for putting weight on those of others.”
He looked at her, cool and considering, and nodded. Started to turn away. “I’ll see you tonight.”
“Wait,” she said. “Sam.”
When he looked back at her she slapped him, once – hard but not extremely so – and the pause in which his face remained turned to the side, wearing a neutral expression, was long enough to make her uneasy. She bit back the apology. He’d never apologised to her for anything.
“Not exactly turning the other cheek, is it?” he said.
“I’m old-fashioned,” she said in return, tense.
“Careful, Thea,” he said finally, and leaned forward to kiss her on the forehead with closed, warm lips. The apology still wanted to fight its way out of her mouth, and she wanted to pull herself out of the reach of his hands, and she wanted to hit him again to see if the danger would stick.
His lips were still touching her temple.
“It won’t bruise,” she said.
“Of course not,” said Lucifer.