Hope

His body may have been tucked in bed all night, but Kyle hadn’t actually slept a wink. All he could hope was that he had been quiet enough that the others in the house had been able to do so. Sore and still sleepy, he sat up, rubbing his eyes. In his dreams, he had been in his own bed, and it was strange waking up in an unfamiliar room.

Not sure he really wanted to know, but unable to stop himself, he looked at the clock on the bedside table. Seven a.m. Grimacing, Kyle threw back the sheets, or tried to. “Shit,” he mumbled, his own voice almost too loud. Now, on top of being exhausted and hungover, he was also dreadfully embarrassed. But he was sure no one else would be awake, and took advantage of the fact to shower and start a load of laundry.

What are you doing? Ryka asked.

“What does it look like? And it’s your fault, you know.”

Sorry. But did you really want me to make it less pleasurable?

“Uh, well ….”

That’s what I thought.

As soon as the sheets were in the dryer, Kyle headed outside. Though that forced him to pass the wreckage of Dan’s grill. “No steaks, I guess,” he remarked, hoping to make Ryka feel guilty. It failed.

Who says I need it cooked first? Mm, bloody meat.

“Vampire,” Kyle said, sitting down carefully on the edge of the pool and letting his feet hang into the cool water.

Where do you think those myths came from?

“Should’ve known.”

For a quarter of an hour, neither of them spoke. Kyle was content just listening to the birds sing. But his peace never lasted.

Your ass hurt?

“What?” He didn’t need to see his reflection to know he was bright red.

You’re fidgeting. So, does it?

“Again, whose fault is that?” he returned bitterly. The dreams Ryka created for him felt incredibly real. Sometimes, he wished they felt a little less so.

I can help.

“I think you’ve done quite enough.” There was no doubt Ryka was just looking for an excuse to summon himself. And after the show he’d put on the night before, Kyle didn’t feel inclined to let him have his way.

Knowing this, Ryka tried a new tactic. The same one Kyle had just tried on him. But Kyle was much more susceptible to guilt than the demon. You know, I’ve never really gotten my wings wet. The tub and shower are too small, and you won’t let me out in the yard.

Kyle knew he caved in too easily, but couldn’t stop himself. He looked back once toward the house, then stood up and started stripping. “Fine. Just for a few minutes, okay?”

Yes, Master.

It took a great deal of willpower not to cannonball into the pool, but Ryka restrained himself and quietly slipped into the water. He spent five minutes sitting on the bottom, obviously enjoying the sensation of being completely submerged. Finally, he surfaced, and Kyle could actually feel the demon’s smile. Having fun?

“There’s nothing like this in Hell.” He lifted his wingtips out of the water, and Kyle could see small flames licking the membrane. Ryka dropped under the surface again, trying to completely engulf himself in fire. When he poked his head back out, steam was rising off the surface, making a thin fog.

There’s no water at all?

“Well, there’s Styx, but for obvious reasons, he doesn’t really like us playing in him. Usually. And there’s a fountain in Lord Satan’s palace, but it’s off limits.”

Excited as he was about being in the pool, talking about home didn’t seem to upset him. Kyle thought that there wouldn’t be a better time to broach a subject that had been nagging at him for over a week. Can I ask a question?

“Go for it. Ah, fuck, our butts are inside. Oh well. Anyway, what’s up?”

This isn’t as belated as usual, but about something Pike said ….

“Yeah?”

Kyle actually felt nervous asking. Especially given how Ryka had reacted to the name when Pike had mentioned it. He said something about Judas. THE Judas? I mean, did we get any of that right? And what did he mean, ‘that’s something to consider?’

“One question, huh?” There was a long pause, and Kyle was sure Ryka was going to completely blow off his queries. “Amazingly, you did get some of it,” he answered at last, not sounding too pleased with their new topic of discussion.

You don’t have to talk about it.

“It might make you feel better, though.”

What?

“Judas was a human. A regular mortal. That means the body he was born into here was supposed to be the only one he ever had. Your bodies exist here in Purgatory for a little while. Like temporary soul storage. Immortals can go back and forth between Heaven, Hell and Purgatory with no problem, with the same body. Like Pike said, he’s been here for a long time.” There was a pause, and Kyle could tell Ryka wasn’t smiling any longer. “Well, assuming we’re lucky enough to get to use our bodies,” he finished, grumbling.

That’s what makes us mortal, and you immortal. You told me that once before.

“But if you control the game, you can break the rules. Judas is in Hell, but his mortal soul was given an immortal body. He’s a demon now.”

What? How? Why?

“One thing at a fucking time. I’m getting there.”

Sorry, I just-

“Forget it. Anyhow, Judas Iscariot, the Betrayer. Well … he was good friends with that kiss-ass cult leader you call Christ. Forget that virgin birth crap, he was a regular human. He was just good at attracting a crowd. Which might have had something to do with the two angels he had following him around.

“Maybe the man upstairs needed an ego boost, or was just bored, but he sent down a pair on angels, and gave them permission to clue him in on some of what was happening in the immortal world. And they told Jesus it was fine to pass the word along. So, if anything about Christianity pisses you off, blame those two blabbermouth angels and the equally loquacious carpenter they were stalking.

“Anyhow, throughout all of this, his good friends were with him. And the one he was closest to was Judas.” The name came out as a hiss. “The reason Judas and Mary Magdalene have such bad reputations is that they were involved in a twisted little love triangle with Jesus. They both wanted him, but as much as Jesus adored and respected Judas, that wasn’t happening. He picked Mary instead. So guess who started the rumor that Mary was a whore? But Judas still thought he was lucky enough just to be Christ’s friend with all this other shit going on.”

“And really, if he had been a little more outgoing, he could have stood as an equal with Christ. Jesus wouldn’t have minded sharing the spotlight, right? And Judas was - fuck, I can’t believe I’m going to say this – smarter and much better looking than his friend. But he was content to sit back and watch.”

Ryka stopped, debating over whether or not to go find his cigarettes. But his host’s impatience forced him to ignore his nicotine addiction, at least for the moment. You can’t just stop there.

“Fine. Well, Judas was content for a while. But the angels on Earth and the man they were watching over caught the eye of Lord Satan. Not as much as Judas did, though. He was so infatuated, he came to Earth himself to meet him.

“I told you Lord Satan was beautiful. Well, Judas fell head-over-heels, too. Got over his crush on Jesus pretty quick, I guess. Of course, he didn’t realize Lucifer had his own agenda. Namely, screw up whatever Heaven was trying to do. He convinced Judas that Christ was going to get himself and all his friends killed with his talk of Heaven and whatever. And that the only way to stop that from happening was to rat him out and have the authorities get him off the streets for a while.

“Deep down, he knew that was really was a death sentence for Christ, but he did it anyhow. And it wasn’t just the Devil’s influence. His best friend had replaced him with those idiot angels and chosen Mary instead of him; he was hurt and angry. So, Judas did it. May as well have nailed Jesus to the cross himself.

“And that was the Earthly end of Christ. He never walked out of that tomb - way to fuck that up, by the way - but he was made an angel once he got to Heaven. So I guess you were kind of close. Anyhow, Lord Satan was pissed. All that trouble to get rid of the guy, and now he’s a fucking immortal. So, partly out of spite, and partly because he really did love him, he asked Judas to kill himself.

“And Judas slit his own wrists because the Devil told him to.”

Did he ever find out who Lucifer really was?

“Yup. And Lord Satan told Judas exactly what was going to happen to his soul after he died. But Judas was even more scared someone would take revenge, so he did it before anyone else could. And he loved Lord Satan, too. He was going to Hell, but at least he’d spend eternity being tortured at the hands of the one he loved.” Somehow, Kyle could understand Judas’s feelings. Suffering for all of time in the pits of Hell wouldn’t be so bad, he often thought, if only he could at least see Ryka once in a while.

There was another break, and Kyle realized Ryka was trying to stay calm. Ripples broke the surface of the water as he started to growl, and the fog hanging over the pool was getting thicker. It was obvious Ryka actually knew Judas, and had a big problem with him. But asking for this story had been enough – he wasn’t brave enough to ask anything more personal.

Almost done, right? I’m sorry again for making you tell me.

“And I said it’s fine. Shit, if you feel that bad, jerk me off or something.”

Uh, later.

“Deal. Anyhow, so Judas went to Hell. But instead of being punished, he was rewarded. Lord Satan made him a demon.”

Just like that?

“He’s the Devil; one of the Creators. He can do whatever the fuck he wants. If it makes him happy, or somehow amuses him, he just does it. And having Judas by his side made him happy. Though I don’t see how. Fucking arrogant prick.”

Still in disbelief, Kyle managed, And you think that maybe …? It seemed too much to actually finish the thought. That if he did, he’d somehow jinx it.

Ryka shrugged. “That’s what I’m hoping for. I-”

But he was cut off by the arrival of Dan, Adam and one of Adam’s cousins. Sinking lower in the water so they couldn’t see him, Ryka listened in on their conversation, amused. “Man, heated pool, too?”

Adam started to say something, but Dan replied first. “No, it’s not.” That was the moment they understood why the pool was suddenly much warmer than it should have been. And Adam, regardless of how much he protested, was volunteered to double check their theory.

More than a little nervous, he peered over the edge. He barely avoided landing sprawled out on his backside on the deck. Ryka had been waiting, staring up at him with a huge grin plastered on his face. Crawling toward the pool, Adam this time waited for Ryka to be at least partly visible.

“Thanks for breakfast,” Ryka said, leaning against the edge of the pool, with elbows resting on the patio.

“Oh, any time. And, um, here. These were on the counter. I assume they’re yours.” Carefully, so they didn’t end up in the pool, Adam slid a pack of cigarettes toward Ryka. And he thought he’d never seen the demon look so pleased.

“You should marry us instead, big boy.”

“Thanks. I’m flattered, but I don’t think I’d make you a very good husband.”

“Who said you were going to be the husband?” Ryka replied, a hungry look in his eyes.

Not missing a beat, Adam told him, “And I’d be an even worse wife.”

“Don’t worry – you’d learn. But you don’t sound too interested. And I’d like you to be willing at least some of the time. So I guess I’ll pass after all.”

“Thank you,” Adam said, his words completely sincere. He stood back up and watched from a safer distance as Ryka lit a cigarette. For having so recently sounded angry, the demon looked strangely content. In the early morning stillness, his deep voice and low growl had carried, and Adam had at first thought it was the distant rumbling of thunder that had woken him. At least until he’d checked the downstairs guest room, still half-asleep, and found Kyle missing.

Ryka finished his first cigarette, flicking his cigarette butt in the general direction of the nearest trash can and quickly reaching for another. Once it was securely in his mouth, he began hefting himself out of the pool, but froze when both Kyle and Adam urged him to find a towel.

“Why?” he asked, his gaze directed at Adam and the others, “Do I make you feel inadequate?”

You’re horrible.

“And that surprises you how?” Still focused on the three men now refusing to meet his eyes, or each other’s he continued, “Well, do I?”

Since Ryka would be able to tell if he were lying, Adam decided to try the truth, no matter how embarrassing. “Yes, actually. So, could I grab a towel for you?”

Rolling his eyes, Ryka conceded, sliding back underwater to wait. When he reemerged, Adam was standing at the pool’s edge, towel in hand. At Kyle’s insistence, he wrapped it around his waist before shaking his wings dry. “I’m warning you, stud. Are you ready?”

Maybe another step away from the-

This time, Kyle was forced to try and keep the towel from falling down while simultaneously wind-milling his free arm in a desperate attempt to regain his balance. As soon as he was confident he wasn’t going to end up in the water, he adjusted the towel, grabbed his clothes, then started for the house. “I need to get dressed,” he told Adam. Almost as though he’d expected any of them to be foolish enough to follow after him. Because no matter how calm Ryka seemed, his presence alone was enough of a threat to ensure that Kyle got all the privacy he needed.

Back inside, where the rest of the revelers were still fast asleep, he dressed then headed back to the laundry room. “Before, you said that you really thought that I, um ….”

I think it’s a real possibility.

“W-Why? I mean, I’m nothing special, right?”

Are you serious? How long have you put up with me? And if we make it as long as we’re supposed to like this, maybe you can get a reward, too. Besides, at the rate you’re going, you’ll be more demon than human by then anyhow.

“What do you mean by that?” Kyle asked, not sure if he should be offended or not.

Well, the first time I killed someone, you were a wreck, even if you didn’t show it. But you numbed yourself to it, and now that’s become apathy. Dislike, even. Your temper’s getting worse, and you don’t even care. Because you know some of them deserve it. You’re starting to think more like me, stud. More like a demon.

Ryka’s explanation shocked Kyle. He had always considered himself a warm person. Why else would he have wanted to become a teacher, if not for the benefit of others? But he realized that the reason Ryka’s words hurt so much was that they were true. The first time he had summoned Ryka to protect himself, he had only done so when he was sure there was no other option. Now, he was hardly bothered when Ryka intervened. It saved him the trouble of solving problems on his own.

Maybe he wasn’t unnecessarily cruel, but he knew Ryka was right. He cared far more about a parasitic demon than any member of his own species. Feeling his throat begin to tighten, Kyle leaned over the dryer, resting his head on his forearms.

For fuck’s sake, don’t cry about it. Then, in a much gentler tone, Master, if you don’t come to terms with this, you’ll never be able to survive in Hell.

“But, what if-?”

I’ll make sure you don’t suffer, Master. Just like I do now. I’ll do whatever it takes. I’ll beg Lord Satan to reward you like he did Judas. I’d give up my own immortality for you, Master. So you don’t have to burn.

Upon hearing that, the tears began falling in earnest. The thought of Ryka prostrate before anyone was almost inconceivable, never mind him giving up the very essence of his being for Kyle. “Ry, how can you say that?”

Because I love you, Master. All I want is your happiness.

“Then don’t talk about leaving me,” Kyle practically shouted, realizing too late there were still people trying to sleep in the house. Much more quietly, he said, “I love you, too, so don’t do anything that would keep us apart. I mean it.”

Yes, Master. Please stop crying. They’re going think I’m being mean to you.

His sobbing subsided to sniffles, and Kyle turned around to lean back against the dryer. “Anything but, Ryka.”

Good. I just want you not to worry. You never say it, but you think about it a lot.

“I’m sorry. I feel better now. I trust you.”

Kyle could tell Ryka was satisfied with his answer. Enough so that he could completely change the subject. You should stay tonight with everyone else.

“Are you sure?” The bachelor party had been planned to last the entire weekend, but Kyle hadn’t really expected that Ryka would want him to stay the whole time.

Knock yourself out. I’m planning on sleeping for the next few days. So I hope you got everything out of your system last night.

Face hot, Kyle told him, “I’m not like you. I can make it more than two hours without needing to get off.”

Just keep telling yourself that. Kyle was fully prepared to argue, but Ryka cut him off. I wouldn’t worry about it. It’s just one of those things that’s going to make you a good demon.