Disclaimer: Tatsunoko owns Gatch.  This is a flight of fancy, intended purely for entertainment.

Grounded

Hell was not a bad place.

It was the Bad Place.  And Ken was in it.  Literally.

He should have been scared out of his mind.  He should have been horrified at his actions.  After all, not only had he stayed out of Heaven for nearly a full day – perhaps even more by now, but the way his time sense was getting skewed made it hard to tell – but he had followed a demon to Earth, not with the intent to purge him, but simply to see him again. 

This, after he had allowed the demon to… show him what sex was, and how good it felt to sin.

And he was certain now that, in the eyes of the Archangel, and the other High Angels in Heaven, it was a sin. 

But he simply could not convince himself that it really was.  Not when it felt so good

Ken flung his head back, gasping for air, and the devil was right there, his lips on Ken’s throat, following the rapid beat of his pulse.  He was going to do it again, was going to sin again with this demon, and he couldn’t even find it in himself to care.  The only thing he cared about right now was the way the devil’s thick hair felt beneath his hands, the way the slightest touch to the small horns made him – Joe – tremble and become even more ardent.

Joe’s hands snuck under the shirt he wore, so very warm against his skin.  Ken writhed helplessly beneath his touch.  Callused fingers skated lightly over his skin and he arched into that oh, so hot touch with a moan.

“Like that, Angel-babe?” Joe breathed against his neck, making him shiver.  Then he claimed his mouth again, his tongue wordlessly demanding entrance, and he could only open his mouth in response.  The demon pressed against him, and the heat of him, the feel of him – the way his belt buckle dug into his stomach, the way that hardness felt against his groin… He’s sin in its purest form, Ken thought, dazed with lack of oxygen.

Before he knew what the devil was about, he had been backed up across the chamber, and barked the backs of his knees into something.  With Joe’s weight against him, he collapsed onto it, hoping that it was soft.  It was; a bed, unmade, sheets wrinkled.  Even so, it was still firm enough to make the pain flare up in his still-slightly-tender rear, and he hissed, pulling away from Joe’s mouth.  Pushing at the demon’s shoulders, he tried to get enough room to maneuver himself so that the pressure was on his hip instead.  “Ow… please, let me…”

“Huh?” The resistance seemed to bring the devil back to himself, and he blinked down at Ken, wriggling beneath him.  “What’s wrong?”

Somehow, even with Joe on top of him, Ken managed to get enough leverage to roll them both to their sides.  The pain faded to the subtle ache he’d gotten used to throughout the day, the one that reminded him of what he’d done, of the pleasure the devil had given him.  Lost in the wave of memory that swept over him – tongue stroking, tasting, hands caressing – Ken didn’t register that the devil had asked a question.

As much as he had enjoyed what they’d done last night, he couldn’t quite fathom wanting to do it again.  No, I don’t think it’s that, he thought, maybe it’s just that I’m not so sure about doing… that right now.

“Hey, you in there, Angel-cakes?”

The devil’s rough tone drew Ken back to himself, and when he looked up, he met glittering grey eyes.  “Yes, I’m here.”

“What’s wrong?”

Ken opened his mouth, then realized that he had no words to describe just what was wrong, and blushed, dropping his gaze again.  “I don’t… I can’t…”

The devil’s rich chuckle came as a complete surprise, and Ken stared up at him in confusion, brows drawn close in a frown.

“Still a little sore?” Joe asked, and his hand smoothed down Ken’s side in a way that made it very difficult to think.

Impossibly, he could feel his face grow even hotter, and let his eyes slide away to stare over his shoulder instead.  “Y-yes…”

He saw the demon nod out of the corner of his eye.  “I kind of thought that might be the case.”  He stilled, though his wings still moved back and forth a little, as if he were undecided on some matter.

And his hand was still stroking Ken’s side under his shirt.  The warm sweep of skin on skin made him tingle, made his breath come short and fast, made him wish he knew what he was wishing for.

Then the devil focused on him again, his gaze intense.  “All right, we’ll do it this way instead,” he muttered, and pulled away from him.

A little dismayed by the demon’s sudden rejection, Ken wasn’t quite sure if the words were actually directed at him or not.  “Do… what?”

Joe tugged at his shirt, pulling it up so that it tangled beneath his arms.  “Lift up,” he ordered shortly, and before Ken knew what was happening, the shirt was over his head and tangled in his wings.

“Ow! What are you doing?” He wrenched his arms down and out of the shirt just as it cleared his head.  He could hear fabric ripping as he thrashed his wings, and after a moment, the shirt flipped free.

“Sorry, Angel,” Joe breathed, though he sounded anything but, and then his hands were on Ken again, stealing away his capacity for thought.  “But you’ll like this.”  His mouth was on him, too, nibbling at his throat.

Ken let his eyes close, let himself just feel – heated lips on his neck, hands brushing his skin – and shivered in reaction.  On uncertain ground, not knowing what he ought to be doing to the devil, just knowing that he should be doing something, he threaded his hands into Joe’s thick hair once more, seeking out the little horns that hid there.

“Unh!”  The demon shuddered against him at the light touch and bit his neck sharply.  His hands clenched, nails digging into Ken’s sides, then started scrabbling at the front of his trousers.  “Fuck, fuck, fuck!”

Then he opened the fly and oh, Luminous One! Ken cried out, arching upward as one hot hand found that part of him that tingled and stirred and reared up.  His hands left Joe’s hair to grip the rumpled bedding instead, as that hand curled around him, moving slowly up and down and making pleasure spiral through him.

“Yeah, Angel-babe,” Joe murmured against his throat, teeth teasing the very spot he’d just bitten before laving it with his tongue.  “Doesn’t that feel good?”

Even through the haze Joe was creating in his mind with each sinful stroke of his hand, Ken was somehow aware that Joe was grinding his pelvis against his leg, that Joe had… something there, a hardness that mirrored his own.  Mindless, wanting to feel all the things he’d felt the previous night on the cloud, Ken moaned and shifted, rolling onto his back until the devil was straddling his leg, still touching him, still rubbing against him.

He felt the demon move over him, felt the brush of fabric against his sensitized skin, and then his lips were at his ear.  “Open your eyes,” he purred, and the husky, breathy sound of his words made Ken gasp.  “Watch me.”

Helpless to do anything else, Ken opened his eyes, and Joe grinned down at him.  “Very good.” He bent to swirl his tongue around Ken’s nipple, and Ken groaned.  “Now… give me your hand.”

Slowly, the words penetrated the cloud surrounding him, and Ken offered up one hand.  The devil pressed it against the hardness at his groin, and Ken was sure that they both made a noise at the touch.

“Yeah,” Joe said, a little breathlessly, as Ken let his fingers outline the bulge in his pants.  “Yeah, Angel, like that…”

Through the fog of want, it struck Ken what to do.  The devil was touching him, touching that part of him, and it felt so good… so it would feel good to him to.  He stopped tracing the front of Joe’s trousers, and the devil groaned as if in pain.  He sought out the closure and fly, his fingers fumbling with the clasp, and Joe’s hips jerked forward.

“More, yeah, Angel…”

Once he got the devil’s fly open, that hardness sprang out, practically leaping into his grasp, and he closed his hand awkwardly around it.  He wasn’t sure if he was gripping it too loosely or too tightly, but the way Joe moaned and shuddered, it must have been just right.

“Like this, babe, back and forth…”

Trying to fight the haze of sensation surrounding him, Ken found it difficult to mimic what Joe was doing.  Everything in the world seemed to fade into the background, until all that he really knew was Joe’s hand around… that part of him, and the way he couldn’t stop rocking his hips up and into that touch.  More, he thought as he climbed toward the pinnacle.  Unconsciously, he started to move faster, wanting, needing

“Harder,” Joe panted above him, thrusting into his hand.  “Harder…”

And tightening his hand around Joe made Joe’s grip firmer, made Ken’s hips rock faster, made that peak come closer and closer…

Then he was there, that white-hot pleasure flashing through him, shattering around him, and he couldn’t hold back his wordless cry, echoed only moments later by the devil’s roar.

It was a while before he pulled enough of himself together to think again.  His hand was sticky, and his forearm ached.  He was still panting a little, as if he’d flown too far at top speed.  Someone else was breathing heavily not too far from his ear.  Lethargy soaked through every muscle of his body, and it was almost too difficult to turn his head.

The devil was sprawled next to him, looking at him.  When their gazes caught, he smiled.  “Feel good?”

Ken’s mouth worked soundlessly for a few seconds before he found his voice.  “Good.  Yes.”

The smile widened to a grin.  “Good.”

Ken fought against a yawn, and lost.  Still grinning, the demon pushed himself off the bed, then swayed to maintain his balance.

Sleepily curious, Ken watched Joe pull off his dark clothing, only to throw it into a heap in the corner.  Then he worked Ken’s jeans off and they joined the other clothes on the floor.  He disappeared into an adjoining chamber – a bathing room, Ken thought, if the splashing of water was any indication.  But his eyes would no longer obey his wish to stay open.

He managed to pry them open when something wet his sticky hand, and saw that Joe was washing off the white stickiness that clung to him, both there and over his groin.  “Thank you,” he murmured, letting his eyes drift shut again.

If the devil made a reply, he never heard it.

***

Jun woke up exhausted, though she had to admit it was an improvement over the night before.

Every part of her hurt.  Wings, eyes, heart.

For a long time, she just stared at the ceiling of her aerie.  It was hard for her to not think, to not let herself remember just what had gone on the previous day.  She was successful, somehow, for a little while.

Eventually, though, practical thoughts reasserted themselves, as they always did, and she started to wonder about the consequences, not only for her own actions, but for Ken’s as well.

The Archangel is not going to be happy, she thought, and couldn’t help but smile bitterly at the understatement.   Too many unpleasant things had happened in the past 48 hours for Katse to be anything approaching happy, even though he – or she – couldn’t know about all of them.

Taking a deep breath, Jun pushed everything to do with Ken to the farthest corner of her mind.  I’ll think about it later, she told herself firmly.  There isn’t much I can do about it now anyway.  Ken… chose.  She held her breath, waiting for the urge to weep to pass.

Finally she had to breathe again.

The Archangel must know by now that I left Heaven yesterday as well, she thought.  He – or she – is going to want to see me.  I went against his order, and that is going to mean some kind of punishment.  I wonder if I’ll get a lesser reprimand if I go to see him right away?

After a moment, she shook her head wryly at the very thought.  Don’t be silly.  You know that Katse doesn’t believe in anything like lighter punishments.

Moving stiffly, as if she were an angel much older than her years, Jun levered herself off her bed.  She performed her morning ablutions with more care than usual, and donned a clean shift.  On the ledge of her aerie, she hesitated for a moment – this is going to be painful – then took off, biting her lip to keep from crying out at the way her muscles protested.

Then she caught an updraft and managed to level out, circled once and headed toward the Archangel’s offices, flying slowly on her leaden wings.

Even though she’d told herself that she wasn’t going to think about Ken, she couldn’t help but wonder what had happened, why he was so willing to… to commit the sins he had.  Demons can hypnotize the unwary, she recalled, slowing even more, but that doesn’t work on angels.  So what really happened?  Why would he… do that?

Why would he kiss that demon right in front of me?

Out of everything, that may have been what hurt the most; that Ken would prefer that devil to her, that her tears and pleas for him to return to Heaven with her meant so little to him.  Even before she had grown out of her fledgling stage, she had longed to kiss him – for in Heaven, to kiss another angel was the sign of the closest possible friendship, a bond nearly unbreakable.

But the kiss that Ken had shared with the devil… That wasn’t a kiss of friendship, she realized.  That was another kind of kiss entirely.

That kiss made her wonder.

Like other angels, she’d learned a little about the breeding customs of humanity during catechism.  The most the elder angels would say about them was that the mortals hadn’t learned there were better and easier ways of reproduction.  They mumbled something about kisses and love, and then had to make it clear that it wasn’t the same kind of love that the Luminous One had for its angels, before desperately trying to move on.

Jun had wondered about it from that lesson, but had never quite dared to use her innate research skills to actually go further.  Her teachers had made it clear that to delve into the matter was more than just frowned upon; it was something that merited serious punishment.

It occurred to her then that she was going to be punished anyway.  Why not do something else that’s… bad?  I mean, punishment is punishment…

The thought should have shocked her, but it didn’t, not with Ken’s example so fresh in her mind.  At that, Jun changed her course, away from the Archangel’s offices and toward the Grand Library.

And with any luck, she thought, maybe I’ll find some real answers before the Archangel discovers what I’ve done.

It was wishful thinking and she knew it.  But that didn’t stop her sudden wild hope that if she had the answers she could somehow save Ken, though whether it was from the devil or from himself, she wasn’t sure.

***

Joe didn’t consider himself a morning person by any stretch of the imagination.

He was surprised to see that the angel was even less of one.

His alarm went off at the usual time – though setting it was an act lost to memory.  Complaining and cursing under his breath, he reached out to slap it off and quickly discovered there was something – someone – cuddled up to him.

Memory returned in a rush, especially once he registered that there were feathers tickling him in some very sensitive areas.  With a yawn, he disentangled himself from the angel and sat up.  Once released, the angel promptly pulled a pillow over his head to mute out the alarm and snuggled back down to continue sleeping.

Joe turned off the alarm and stared at the fledgling in surprise.  “Hey, Angel-cakes.  Time to wake up.”

“Don’ wanna.” He could barely make out the words, muffled as they were into the pillow.  He’d drawn his wings around him again, as if missing the warmth of Joe’s body.

Grinning, Joe plucked the pillow from Ken’s arms and tossed it to the floor.  “I don’t care if you don’t wanna or not,” he said, ignoring the sleepy pout he received in return.  “I’ve got work to do, and before I can do that, I have to take you to see Lord Nambu.”  He slapped the angel firmly on his rear, causing the fledgling to roll over and scowl darkly.  “So get your ass in gear, Angel-boy.”

Still glaring at him, heavy brows drawn close over his eyes, the angel got up.  For a moment, Joe was distracted by how blue the boy’s eyes were, how they seemed to glow laser-blue in the warm semi-darkness of the room.  Quite suddenly, he remembered that this angel with the pretty face and bright eyes was a Hunter.  He was a warrior, and even though, by his own admission he was still in training, he was still a force to be reckoned with.

Doesn’t mean I’m going to back down, Joe thought, watching the angel’s easy movements, and suddenly reading them in a different light.  Just have to keep in mind that he’s not as much of a pushover as I thought he was.

“All right, I’m up,” the angel grumbled.  He stretched, arms above his head, wings wide, abdomen hollowing.  “Now what?”

Joe rolled his eyes and pushed the angel in the direction of the shower.  “Go wash first,” he ordered.  “You probably want to be cleaner than that little swipe last night.”

And just that mention of last night’s sexual escapade made Ken turn red to his ears.  All right, Joe amended, grinning, so he is kind of a pushover in the embarrassment department.  I’m going to have to remember that, too.

“Uh, yeah,” Ken replied, ducking his head.  He tried to run his fingers through his tangled hair, and winced at encountering the snarls.  “How long?  Before…”

“You’ve got enough time for a quick shower,” Joe replied, and turned away to gather his working clothes.  If I keep staring at him, there is no way in this Hell that I’ll make it to work on time.

“Um.  All right.”  The angel-boy’s words were tinged with uncertainty, but  before Joe could spare a thought as to what to do – reassurances were not supposed to be his forte – he heard the door to the bathroom close.

Sighing gustily, he picked up the angel’s clothes, recalled the now-missing loincloth fondly, and laid them almost neatly on the bed before getting dressed himself.

He was just tugging on his boots when Ken stepped out of the bath in a billow of steam, shaking his wings to dry them.  His eyes widened when he saw that Joe was already dressed.  “Don’t you want…” and he gestured back toward the bathroom.

“I did, last night,” Joe lied.  In fact, he hadn’t, but the scent of the angel’s spunk on him from the night before – faint as it was – would be enough to make the other devils crazy with jealousy, as had been ably demonstrated the day before.  One after the other, they had cornered him in some part of the Pit and demanded what about him smelled so… good.  So pure.  So very out of place in Hell.

Ken blushed again.  “Oh. Right.”

He frowned as he watched the angel-boy pull on his clothes, his movements jerky, almost clumsy, very much not in keeping with the lithe grace he’d seen earlier.  Unable to put a name to the unease he felt, or come up with a reason why he did feel it, he stepped up behind Ken and buried his face against the side of his neck, inhaling deeply of the angelic perfume that still clung to him.  “C’mon, Angel-babe,” he whispered.  “It’s not so bad.  You’ve got to meet with Lord Nambu so he can find something for you to do.  Despite what you think, there’s no place for slackers in Hell.  Everybody’s got to do something.”  He nipped Ken’s throat, felt him shiver, felt the wings twitch against his body.  “Even though it’s Hell, it’s not all bad.”

Ken stiffened and pulled away from him, bending to put on his shoes.  When he was done, all he said was, “I’m ready.”

There was no warmth in his voice, and his face was stony.

Confused, wondering what in Sosai’s name had happened, Joe just led him out the door.

***

Even though Joe’s words had left him feeling cold and distant – and ashamed, too, he thought, insides curling at the admission, because I did choose this – Ken couldn’t help but stare.  The devil led him through corridor after corridor, and he was surrounded by demons of all kinds, but it was, Luminous One help him, the high swooping architecture that made his mouth hang open.

It was similar enough to Heaven to make him more than a little homesick.  But where Heaven was light and airy, Hell was hard, granite.  There was no cool air in Hell, either; it was as if the high ceilings and heavy buttresses were designed to capture heat.

And from what Joe said, they weren’t even that close to the Pit.

Ken shuddered at the thought.  He knew that Joe expected him to stay here, and before, he really hadn’t thought any differently.  But now… now he wasn’t so sure he would be able to.  Every breath was too hot, too dry, too filled with brimstone.  He felt as if he were choking each moment, and his lungs strained and burned.

And I never want to see where the… the souls are tortured.  The Luminous One decreed that sinners deserve punishment, but… punishment here? For all eternity?  While he knew the Archangel would not take him back, while he did want to continue… sharing his body with Joe, right now, the very idea of staying in Hell was too much.

The other devils stared at him; he could feel hundreds of eyes on him, and they didn’t bother to whisper as they discussed him.  He heard every word clearly.  Trying to keep himself from inadvertently brushing up against them, he pulled his wings in tight to his body, and wrapped his arms around himself.

For some reason, even though he was sweating, he felt very cold inside.

When Joe at last stopped in front of a particularly ornate set of doors, Ken nearly bumped into him.  He started to stammer out an apology.

The devil grabbed him before he’d spoken more than two words, pulled him forward until they were body to body, all the way down.  “I meant it, Angel-babe,” he whispered into Ken’s ear, and Ken couldn’t control the shiver that wracked him.  “I know it’s not what you’re used to, but it isn’t all bad, no matter what you’ve been taught.”

Joe straightened away, and Ken felt himself reeling a little at the loss of support.  “Lord Nambu wanted to meet with you, and he’ll probably have someone to give you a little tour… don’t worry,” he added, grinning wryly.  “It won’t be one of us from the Pit.  Once you’re done, you just have your escort bring you back to my quarters.  They’ll know the way.  I’ll probably be off-shift by the time you’re done.”  The heavy-lidded look Joe gave him was more intimate than a kiss.  “See you then, Angel-cakes.”

The tip of Joe’s tail almost seemed to caress the ends of his flight feathers as he left.

Taking a deep breath and then wishing he hadn’t, Ken turned to face the doors.  He half-expected to see the sign over them that he hadn’t seen on entering through Hell’s gate the night before – abandon all hope, ye who enter here.

But there was no such sign, and the doors weren’t really quite as forbidding as all that; they were… just in keeping with the tone of the rest of Hell.  Resisting the urge to wrap his wings around himself again for courage, Ken knocked.

The doors creaked open, and suddenly Ken wondered if his first perception had been the correct one after all.  Cautiously, he entered, looking for the demon that had opened the heavy doors, but there was no one.  The office was dimly lit, but abandoned.  That small bit of light came from the partly-opened door on the far wall, indicating there was another room to the suite.  Ken crossed the office, sinking into the deep plush of the carpet and vaguely wondering if he should have removed his shoes before entering.

He laid his hand on the open door, hesitating.  Before he could force himself to enter, a voice called out from within the second room.  “Come.”

The first thing he noticed was that it was much brighter inside, and he blinked, somewhat dazzled by the light.  It was also cooler, and he was able to breathe easily for the first time in what felt like forever.  When he’d recovered himself, he saw that there was a demon sitting behind a heavy desk with two neat stacks of paper on either side of him, and a sleek, ultra-modern phone centered precisely in front of him.

What surprised him most about the demon wasn’t his incredible wingspan, or the neatly trimmed mustache, or even the faint fatherly air he seemed to exude.

No, Ken thought, feeling his mouth hang open yet again, it’s the glasses.  Why in Heaven’s name would a demon lord need to wear glasses?

The demon nodded pleasantly.  “Good morning, Ken.  Please, have a seat.  I’m glad Joe remembered my orders to bring you to see me… even if it is later than I anticipated.”

Somewhat woodenly, Ken sank into one of the chairs situated before the demon’s desk, then remembered his manners with a start.  “I… I apologize, Lord Nambu, I…”

The demon smiled, and Ken didn’t find it at all disturbing.  It was more of a smile than he’d ever received from the Archangel, and even Michael’s rictus grin of battle was more frightening.  He even relaxed a little.

“No,” Nambu interrupted.  “No apologies are necessary.”  He tilted his head slightly.  “I hope that Joe has already mentioned this, but I have to as well.  If you choose to stay here, you must earn your keep.  Hell is far too busy a place to support those who do nothing.  Even Sosai has torture to perform.”

Ken sucked in a breath as Nambu said the Adversary’s name.   Michael had mentioned it once or twice, but it took some getting used to.  In catechism, it was never mentioned at all.

“In any case, that is what this interview is partly about – to find a task here that will suit you.  So I must ask – what class of angel are you?”

“A Hunter, sir.”  For a moment, Ken wondered how appropriate it was for him to call this demon lord by any kind of honorific, then decided that something was better than nothing.

Nambu’s eyebrows rose above his glasses.  “A Hunter!”

He tried not to squirm under the demon’s suddenly intense gaze.  “Yes, sir.”

“Well, well.”  Nambu sat back in his chair, making the smooth leather protest softly.  “That is a surprise.”

Ken opened his mouth to apologize once more, then recalled the futility of it – of what use was it to apologize for what he was? – and held his tongue.  He fidgeted, discomfited.

The silence had stretched out uncomfortably when at last Nambu spoke again.  “There are some additional questions I must ask you, especially in light of your class.  You probably won’t like them, but I can’t require you to answer them.  After all, you are here of your own free will, and as such, you may leave at any time.”

Ken winced and hung his head as the shame washed over him again.  Surely the demon lord knew he had no place to go.  “Yes, sir,” he whispered.  Then he drew himself up to meet the other’s eye.  “I will not answer any questions about Heaven’s army, the positions of other angels, or the Archangel’s current policies,” he said, and felt just a little better for marking that line in the sand.

“Of course not,” Nambu replied smoothly, and gave him a hint of a glare.  “I wouldn’t even think to ask.”

He wilted a little.  “No, sir.”  He took another deep breath and was grateful for it as he waited.

“I think,” Nambu began quietly, “that I would be most interested to know what Joe did and said when you met.  What inducements did he offer?”

He shook his head.  “I don’t… there weren’t really any… inducements.

“No?  What did he say?”

Ken thought back on the things Joe had said, and the way they had sounded, the way his breath had felt in his ear… “I… they… it was just… what he said was logical.”  He sagged a little more, staring down at his hands, clenched in his lap.  “I mean, it all sounded reasonable.”

“Really.”

Ken glanced up, and saw that Nambu wore an expression of no small disbelief, and even though it wasn’t directed at him, it still stung.  He spread his wings a little in anger.  “Fine – decide for yourself.   ‘How can you decide if something is wrong or right without ever having tried it?’” He leveled a cool grin at the demon lord.  “And ‘do you want to do something that none of your teachers were brave enough to try?’  Does that prove it to you?”

For a fraction of a heartbeat, he thought he saw Nambu’s face tighten, thought he saw something like fear.  But it was gone in the next instant, and he was certain he had imagined it.

Nambu coughed into his fist.  “Yes, thank you.  Now, tell me about the rest.  He must have done… things.  What did he do, and how did you respond?”

Ken fumbled for a moment, unable to do as the old demon had asked because he simply didn’t have the words or knowledge to describe what had happened the other night between him and Joe.  With a sigh, he conceded the field.  “I… I don’t think I can.

Again, Nambu considered him carefully.  “No, I think perhaps you’re right.”  He took off his glasses to polish them briefly.  “Perhaps, at some later date, we will revisit this topic with better results.  You understand.  I do have a vested interest in… keeping the Opposition off-balance.”

Nodding dully, Ken felt a definite sinking feeling in the region of his stomach.  I don’t think I’ll ever be able to give any ‘better results’ than this, he thought.

In addition, it was disheartening to hear Heaven – his friends, his teachers, all of the other angels, with whom he’d identified all his life – referred to as the Opposition.  He was reminded once again of all the things he’d left behind, simply because he wanted to know.

As every moment passed, he became less and less sure that his decisions had been wise ones – starting from the very moment Joe had appeared on his cloud.

“I think that’s enough for now,” the demon lord said.  “However, I do want to speak to you again in a few days time, regarding your duties while you abide in Hell.”

Somehow, Ken roused himself from his despairing thoughts.  “Joe mentioned that… that you might have someone show me around?” He glanced down at his hands again, and had to force himself to stop twisting them.  “I don’t think I could find my way… anywhere.”

“Hmm.  Yes.”  Nambu dialed a number on his phone.  All he said was, “Come to my office, now,” before hanging up again.  “Do you wish to stay with Joe or have your own room?”

Turn away from the one thing that was even remotely familiar in this strange new place? No!  Immediately, Ken replied, “No, I’ll stay.”

Slowly, the demon nodded.  “Very well.  If you change your mind, we do have other suites available.  I’m sure you had your own room previously.  You can let me know when we meet again.”

Before Ken could reply, there was a knock on the door to the inner office.  Raising his voice, Nambu called, “Ryu, come in.  This is Ken.”

Ken stood and turned to greet his guide, then simply stopped in shock.

The one Nambu called Ryu stood in the doorway, equally gape-mouthed.  He wore all black, as Joe did, but there the similarities ended.  Ryu was not as tall, not nearly as well defined muscularly, and had broad, almost placid seeming features, the kind that said there wasn’t much that bothered him.  Except now, Ken thought distantly.

The biggest difference, however, was in the wings that sprouted from his shoulders.  They drew Ken’s gaze, and he just couldn’t look away, no matter how he tried.

Because Ryu’s wings were just as feathered as Ken’s own.

***

Jun rubbed her forehead.  She could now add head to her list of things that ached.

She had lost track of just how long she’d been in the Grand Library, as frequently happened.  One item simply lead to another in an endless trail, a cascade of articles, notes and apocrypha, enough information to sway less dedicated researchers from their path.

Jun was a very dedicated, very thorough researcher.

The problem, however, was that while Jun had been compiling her lists of subjects and searches, she noted with some dismay that most of the books that she needed to examine were filed as “Special Collections”.  They weren’t located in the public stacks, which wasn’t really a surprise, considering that her search criteria included the terms devils and sin.  The Special Collections area was behind a door with an alarm, and only the very highest levels of Gatherers and, more recently, Scientists were allowed to see them.

Of course, there was still a wealth of material in the general circulation, but most of it was just reiteration of information she’d already learned in catechism.  She tapped her stylus against the desk she was using, until an older angel with a librarian’s badge gave her a stern look.  Flushing at the unspoken reprimand, she returned to concentrating on the list of material she needed to consult.

Maybe I’ll be lucky, and some of this was misfiled in the stacks? she thought hopefully.  But after a moment, she shook her head.  I don’t think even the newest fledgling librarian would shelve Wiles: Demons and Their Means of Temptation in the general population.

She sighed, and ran though her list again, then eyed the terminal she was using.  I wonder if I could possibly use it to get past the alarm?  Oh!  Maybe some of these books have been scanned?  All I’d have to do is get into that memory node of the library computer system and I’d be able to read them.  That would be a lot easier than trying to get past the actual physical alarm…

Looking around to make sure that the librarian had flitted away to berate someone else, Jun started to coax the terminal to give her the information she desired.

To her own astonishment, it worked.  The volumes she requested were readily available, each one scanned and indexed electronically, and the things she read frightened and entranced her by turns.

She didn’t even notice the time until a voice spoke at her shoulder.

 “Big sis?”

Jumping, suppressing a shriek by pure force of will, Jun whirled in her seat.  “Jinpei!  Oh you scared me!”

The child that stood by her chair may have been an angel, but he certainly didn’t look it.  His hair didn’t look like it had been combed since the last time she reminded him, and he was small for his age.  Most troubling of all, he didn’t have any wings.  The Scientist angels that had hatched him kept saying his genes had the appropriate markers for wing growth, that he really was an angel, but those genes had not expressed themselves yet.

Jinpei frowned at her, looking mulish as few angels did.  “Good.  You forgot all about me, didn’t you?”

Guiltily, Jun realized that yes, she had.  “I’m sorry, Jinpei,” she offered quietly.  “I know I said I’d help you with your studies…”

“You said you’d help me yesterday,” the boy reminded her, crossing his arms and glaring some more.  “I couldn’t even make it up to your aerie to see if you were there.  I looked like an idiot this morning in catechism.”  Then he caught sight of the pages that were still displayed on her monitor and forgot all about his petulance.  “Hey, what’s that?”

The picture on one of the pages depicted a demon, though she had to admit that it bore only passing resemblance to the devil she’d seen with Ken last night.  The one in the drawing had horns and a tail, and bat-like wings spread wide… but the horns were similar to a ram’s horn, wide at the base and curling, and the tail was more like a scorpion’s.  In addition, it had a forked tongue, which Ken’s demon certainly didn’t seem to have.

Blushing, Jun tried to blank the screen.  “No, don’t look at that,” she hissed, trying not to attract anyone else’s attention.

When he was close enough, he dropped his child-like air altogether.  “Jun… where’s Ken?” he whispered.  “I tried going to his aerie, too, but he wasn’t there.  I heard the teachers say that he snuck out of Heaven and disappeared.”

For a second, she just stared at him.  Oh, Luminous One, she thought, how am I going to explain that?  Quickly enough, she remembered that if he thought someone was keeping a secret from him, he exerted all his considerable talents to discover it.

She lowered her voice even more, and even managed to not sound like she was going to cry.  “Yes, Jinpei, he did.  But he… he didn’t disappear.  I saw him last night.  He was on Earth.”

Jinpei just stared at her, brown eyes wide and round.  “No way.”

She nodded, and reminded herself that they were in public and she wasn’t going to break down.  “I snuck out, too, to make sure he was all right…”  She caught sight of the librarian coming back.  “Look, Jinpei, we can’t talk about it right now, all right?  I… I have to finish this.  It’s a special project.”  She winced, and told herself that it wasn’t a lie, not really.  “I’ll come by the crèche later.  I promise.”

The boy had already seen the librarian, and nodded, pouting just a little, the child-demeanor firmly back in place.  “You’d better.  I can’t wait until I get my own aerie.”

Jun smiled, the first real smile she’d worn since she discovered Ken was missing.  “I think that’ll be a while yet.  You’ve got some growing yet to do.”  She tousled his hair, mussing it even further.

Jinpei stuck his tongue out at her and dashed for the exit, turning and waving broadly before slipping out the door.

With a sigh, still smiling fondly, Jun opened up the page she had been reading again.

In the 5018th year since the creation of Heaven and Earth, the first angel since the Sundering defected from Heaven and fell…

***

“Please, tell me… how did you come to be in Hell?” Ken asked for the fourth or fifth time.  He kept staring at the dull bronze of the other angel’s feathers, and couldn’t’ help but wonder if his own would turn the same color.

As he had every other time, Ryu just shook his head, though this time it was accompanied by a deep sigh.  “No.”

Following Ryu down the corridor, Ken thought as hard as he ever had in his life, feverishly trying to come up with a way to convince the other angel. 

And wasn’t that a shock? he thought, still reeling a little in amazement.  To have expected a devil for a guide through Hell, only to have it be another angel?

Ryu said nothing further in response to Ken’s repeated questioning.  They passed several demons as they made their way through the long and twisting hallway, and each one greeted Ryu cordially before staring at Ken in disbelief.  For all his weight and girth, however, Ryu moved quickly, and none of the devils had a chance to ask the questions that burned on the tips of their tongues.

After walking for several minutes, the hall fed into a great cavern, filled with small square rooms.   Ken peeked into several as Ryu marched on, and discovered that each one had a desk, a devil and a mountain of paperwork.  Ken paused to watch one demon, though they were all doing something very similar.  The demon briefly read each piece of paper, scribbled a mark on it, stamped it with red ink, then sealed it with red wax.  It went into a pile and the next document received the same treatment.

Ken managed to tear himself away from the somewhat-mesmerizing sight just in time to see Ryu enter a room along the wall of the cavern.  When he entered, he discovered that Ryu’s place of work was bigger and slightly nicer than the tiny boxes out in the cavern proper.  His desk was bigger, but it was also covered with more paperwork.

“Look, Ken.”  Ryu’s distinctive voice – deep and somewhat cracked, or scratchy – drew his attention from studying the office.  The other angel was settling into a chair with castors, and it creaked in protest as he shifted his weight.  “I don’t care how much you ask, I’m not going to tell you how I ended up here.  I’m not going to ask about why you’re here, either.  All you need to know is that the reason is private, and I didn’t want to go back to Heaven anyway.”  His eyes were keen, almost piercing, as he held Ken’s gaze.  “Anything else is fair game.  All right?”

Slowly, Ken nodded, and wasn’t the least bit surprised to find that, despite his seemingly easy-going exterior, Ryu had a core of steel.  “All right.”

Ryu swiveled around to face his desk.  “Lord Nambu probably wanted me to explain to you what I do, so you could get a bigger picture.  He never asked me to work in the Pit, and he probably won’t ask you either, even though you’re a Hunter.”  Again, those sharp eyes assessed him.

Ken nodded again.  “Yes, that’s right…” The question he wanted to ask – how could you tell? – was implicit in his tone.

Ryu gave him a half-smile over one shoulder and fluttered his wings wordlessly.  “So here’s the thing.  Not all the torture in Hell is for the damned souls.  This department mostly focuses on the mortals.”

“You… you torture the humans?”

Once more, Ryu sighed gustily.  “No.  Listen.  What I do… think of it as the dripping faucet kind of evil.”

The concept was so foreign that Ken could only boggle.  “The what?”

He shook his head.  “Fledglings these days.  What I do is I make the tap drip.  Or make the traffic light change just when someone gets there.  Maybe the car is making a noise, so the mortal takes it to the mechanic, but when it gets there, there’s nothing wrong.  That’s me, too.  All those little frustrating things that seem to make the mortals go crazy… that’s what I do.”

“You… you make them crazy?” Ken couldn’t quite see the evil behind that.

“Kind of.  It’s more that I make them… irritable.  Irritable people are more likely to do something evil, either to themselves or, more likely, to someone else.”  This time, Ryu’s grin was smug.  “I’ve gotten a bunch of commendations over the years.  Especially when I urged Bill Gates to release WinME; that sent a lot of people over the edge.  Well, metaphorically speaking.”

And indeed, when Ken looked at the wall where Ryu was pointing, there were several plaques honoring his accomplishments.  He glanced back at Ryu, studying his computer screen, at the paperwork on his desk – haphazardly stacked and teetering each moment on the edge of collapsing – at the commendations again, and just collapsed into one of the other chairs.  He covered his face with his hands.  “My head hurts.”

“There’s no aspirin in Hell,” Ryu offered absently, tapping at his keyboard.  “Sorry.”

Raising his head, Ken scowled at him.  “Do you have any idea how overwhelming this is?”

“What do you think?” Ryu’s chair groaned as he swung around again.  “Ken, I’ve been down here for nearly a hundred years, but that doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten.  You left behind everything you know.  You’re in this place that’s too hot, too dirty, too strange, all because…” He stopped short, obviously rethinking his words.  “And you’ve got to do something if you want to stay, even if it’s just being a small cog in the big evil machine, because everyone has to work in Hell.  But even that’s okay, because no matter what, there’s something here that’s better than what you left behind.”

Somehow, though the words had started out harshly, there was truth in them, enough that Ken was comforted, if only a little.   Hesitantly, he nodded, and offered a smile, but simply couldn’t find any words in response.

Ryu seemed to take pity on him.  “Tell you what.  You can just hang out until the end of my shift, then we can go get something to eat.  I bet you’ll be starving pretty soon.  Sound good?”

This time, his smile was immediate.  “Yes, that sounds great.”  He sat back in the chair, and for the first time since he’d woken up the day before, he felt almost at peace.

***

“Angel Jun?”

The sound of an unfamiliar voice calling her name broke her out of her computer-induced trance, and she looked up to find an unfamiliar angel standing at her shoulder.  He was older than she, and much, much bigger.  Suddenly nervous, she swallowed.  “Yes?”

“I must ask you to come with me,” he said, and while he made no move to touch her, she knew that the slightest indication that she was trying to flee would be stopped immediately.

She nodded.  Forcing an outward calm she did not feel, she closed down the computer and gathered her stylus and notes.  As soon as she had done so, the big angel gestured for her to precede him out the library doors.

Once outside, Jun saw that it was nearly dark.  I’ve been researching all day, she thought, a little amazed.  I didn’t even know time was passing…

“Come along.”  The angel’s words were curt, and drew her attention back to him.

“Where are we going?” As soon as she asked the question, however, she knew the answer, even before he replied.

“The Archangel would like to speak with you.”

She sighed softly.  “I thought so.”  Obediently, she spread her wings, still somewhat sore from yesterday’s exertions, and took off for the Archangel’s offices.

Throughout the short flight, she speculated just what she was getting punished for.  Suddenly, she realized that she was guilty of a number of wrongs, from disobeying the Archangel’s orders yesterday, to not reporting that she’d found Ken, to accessing books that were forbidden to her.

I wonder what the punishment is going to be for all that?  Does the Archangel even know about what I did at the library? She had to keep herself from shuddering at that.  If Katse did know…

The big angel was at her side all the way through to Katse’s office, where Jun had asked just yesterday if it was Ken who had gone missing.

Katse was not alone in the office; there were several other angels of high rank.  She recognized Michael from Ken’s descriptions, and Raphael, and it dawned on her then that she was in much, much greater trouble than she had even thought.

This was a meeting of the Archangel’s Council.  If I’ve been brought here for this...

Katse was in his masculine form, standing behind her desk.  Her expression was very hard, very cold.  “Angel Jun,” he stated formally, his tone forbidding, “we know that you have committed several offences against Heaven’s law.  You ignored the direct order of the Archangel.  You left Heaven via the back gate, despite having been warned against it.  You visited Earth without permission.  Upon your return to Heaven, you did not immediately report that you had been in contact with the Angel Ken, who is now cast out from Heaven.  Furthermore, you forced access to books that were expressly prohibited.”

The Archangel took a deep breath.  “Due to your employ as my secretary, you are given this opportunity to explain your actions and choose your punishment.”  He sat down, never having once met her gaze.

The other angels around the room muttered, but were quickly silenced by Katse’s glare.

Something isn’t right here, she thought.  They didn’t expect the Archangel to say that... and how could they possibly know I’d met with Ken?

“Your answer, Jun.”  This from Raphael, his voice heavy with disappointment.

“My actions are my own,” she replied, and was both pleased and surprised that she spoke without a quaver.  “I have no other defense but that I acted out of concern for my friend.”

“I see.”  Katse spoke flatly.  “And now, the matter of your considerable punishment.”

The Council shuffled again, briefly.

“You may choose to accept permanent demotion and the associated penalties, including no contact whatsoever with the minor, Fledgling Jinpei –”

She sucked in a breath in horror.

“– and the exclusion of your genes from being passed on, to name only two...” Katse paused, and she couldn’t help thinking cynically that it was for dramatic effect.  “Or you may choose exile.”

The silence in the chamber was absolute.

Every eye was on her, but by great strength of will, Jun ignored them.  Instead, she studied the Archangel, eyes sharp, and just for an instant, she saw his features change, male to female and back again, so quickly that none of the other angels in the chamber noticed.

And just like that, she understood.  They weren’t offering her a choice; the decision had never really been in her hands to begin with.  This had been inevitable from the moment she had chosen to sneak out Heaven’s back gate to search for Ken on her own.

She lifted her chin.  Whatever they had already decided, they would discover that she still could choose.

***

Joe returned to his suite to discover that Ken had already arrived

Whatever had been bothering him that morning had not entirely disappeared, but the angel-boy definitely seemed more at ease, somehow.  The unease that he’d been carrying around all day – the one where he didn’t even know what was wrong – just dissipated.

The boy had made the bed, though, thankfully, he hadn’t tried to clean otherwise.  He leaned up against the headboard, and had found something to read.  From the wideness of his eyes and the round ‘O’ of his mouth, he presumed it was something appropriately pornographic.

“Getting some ideas, Angel-babe?” he purred, leaning up against the doorframe.

The sound of his voice made the boy’s head jerk up.  He fumbled with the book, trying to hide it, and his cheeks flushed a becoming red.

Joe just grinned and trailed his fingers down his chest.  The angel’s eyes watched them avidly, though his blush intensified when he cupped the bulge at the front of his jeans.

But he didn’t look away, Joe noticed.  And that, he thought smugly, is definite progress.

After a moment, Ken lifted his gaze again, smiling a little shyly despite his blush.  “Maybe,” he replied, and Joe was amazed at the teasing in his tone.  “I might need someone to explain just what…”

He got no further, as Joe flew across the room to capture his mouth in a brutal kiss.  He pressed the boy back against the headboard, holding his head still so he could plunder his innocent mouth.  He demanded entry into Ken’s mouth, and the angel gave it with a soft moan of surrender.

Joe barely registered the angel’s hands clutching at his shoulders; all he could think about was the taste of Ken’s mouth, and getting as much of it as he could.

He only pulled away when his air ran too short to continue.  Instead, he started kissing and nipping at Ken’s throat.  Ken whimpered and arched his neck to give him better access.  The angel’s hands drifted from his shoulders to the front of his shirt, toying innocently with the buttons.

“Do it,” Joe ordered, sinking his teeth into Ken’s earlobe.  “Touch me.  I’m gonna touch you…” He suited action to word, pulling the shirt from Ken’s pants and running his hand underneath, stroking his side, flicking lightly over his nipple.

The angel shuddered, groaning deliciously.  “More,” he whispered, and tentatively started to kiss along Joe’s throat.

Joe froze.  Oh, sweet Sosai.  He’s actually kissing me.

What little sex they’d had had been entirely at his instigation.  But now, oh!  The angel was not only responding, but initiating, and it made his libido roar out of control.

He growled against Ken’s throat, grinding their hips together.  Feeling the evidence of the angel’s arousal against him only inflamed him more.  He started to undo Ken’s jeans, and Ken’s fingers fumbled with the buttons of his shirt.

Just then, there was a knock at the door.

They froze.  Joe’s lips abandoned Ken’s neck, and Ken straightened a little.  They both stared at the door.

“Who the fuck knocks in Hell?” Joe muttered.

At last recognizing the word as a swear of the highest order, Ken blushed.

The knock came again, louder and more insistent.  Growling in displeasure, Joe let go of the angel with great reluctance and stalked toward the door.  He flung it open, heedless of the way his shirt gaped open and the top button of his pants was undone, and without even looking at who stood there, he snarled, “I don’t give a fuck who you are, go away!”

Then he blinked.  There was definitely an angel standing outside his door.  He glanced quickly over his shoulder at Ken, then at the chubby angel in front of him.  Belatedly, he recognized him as also working for Lord Nambu, though not in the Pit.

“Uh…” For the second time that day, Ryu was upset.  “I’m really sorry to interrupt, but…”

“Ryu?” Ken pushed himself off the bed to hover just behind Joe.  “What’s wrong?

He was wringing his hands.  “I just want you to know that it’s not my fault.  All right?”

Joe growled at that.  Yes, it fucking well is your fault! I was just about to get laid!

“What’s not your fault?” Ken asked, much more reasonably than Joe felt he could muster, which wasn’t much, after all.

“I mean, I didn’t think…”

“Didn’t think what?

“I didn’t think anyone would remember,” Ryu said, sounding desperate.  “But she knew my name!” 

Ken froze at that, and suddenly, Joe had the sinking feeling that he wasn’t going to get laid at all.

Speaking very slowly and carefully, as if each word was a dagger in his mouth, Ken said, “An angel girl, with big green eyes?  Not quite as tall as I am?”

Ryu grinned and nodded, suddenly calmer, as if passing on his perturbation was the cure.  “Yes, that’s her.  She’s got one beauty of a shiner, though,” he added thoughtfully.

Ken sighed, shoulders drooping.  Then he turned to Joe with a smile that had absolutely no humor whatsoever.  “Congratulations.  You’ve got two angels to fall for the price of one.”

***
June 23, 2008