Jinxed

For something that now existed for the sole purpose of terrifying the damned, Kyle had done a lot of screaming himself when he’d first arrived in Hell. And not the good kind. Not long after being turned into a demon, he’d woken from a nap to discover a fifty-foot-long, black snake-like creature curled up on the balcony. He hadn’t been able to stop himself – he’d shrieked like a little girl. The monster had looked at him with pupil-less orange eyes, made a noise like an angry cat, and slithered away.  Ryka’s complete calm upon hearing this creature described only made Kyle feel worse.

Even more terrifying had been his first flight. “We should go visit Octavia,” Ryka had suggested. “She’s only a few floors below us.”

Kyle had looked out over the edge of the balcony and nearly cried. It was a sheer drop of at least a hundred stories to a hard, cracked ground below. “H-how?” he’d stammered, already dreading Ryka’s answer.

“Did you really just ask that? What do you think we have wings for?”

“I can’t,” Kyle had protested, while Ryka had pulled him onto the thick railing that surrounded the overhang.

“Sure you can. The worst that’s going to happen is that you look like an idiot.”

“That’s bad enough.”

“Suck it up,” Ryka had told him, before giving him a shove. All of Hell had heard him scream. But instinct eventually kicked in and he managed to save himself the embarrassment of crashing. Although his landing was a little rough. He’d skidded to a stop, a tangled heap of wings and limbs, in Octavia’s room. At least she had been polite enough not to laugh, he thought. Ryka had shown no such consideration. “At least you fuck better than you fly.”

Nothing, though, had prepared him for the part of Hell that resided on the other side of those towering black mountains. Ryka had insisted on giving him a tour, and Kyle really had no choice but to go. It wasn’t the sight of billions of human souls being tortured by countless scores of demons that frightened him; it was seeing Lord Satan as he appeared to the damned that made him tremble and try to hide behind Ryka. He could still clearly remember the number of times he had seen the great beast through the portal’s open mouth, but those memories were almost a comfort now.

In a form that appeared to be a hideous amalgamation of all sorts of animals, some of them native only to Hell, Lucifer towered over the scene. His wings, bat-like in this form, were nearly level with the mountains’ peaks. The damned wept and groveled at his feet, pleading for mercy while fire danced around them. On cloven hooves, he carelessly trod over them, straight toward where Ryka and Kyle were standing. But he had walked right past.

“He-he looks so different,” Kyle said quietly, as if anyone besides Ryka could hear him over the screaming and crying.

“He can change into whatever he wants.”

“I think I prefer him the other way.”

“Don’t let him hear you say that. He’ll never leave you alone.”

***       

Time passed differently in Hell than it did on Earth. What felt like weeks to Kyle had been years in the mortal world. After all the initial shocks, he had adjusted rather well. At first, he and Ryka had been left to their own devices, which was fine with Kyle. They needed to make up for lost time. In bed, that is.

And they were frequently interrupted by the youngest demons, some of who Ryka had once worked with. It annoyed Ryka to no end, but Kyle couldn’t help but think they were cute. Something about the imps’ big eyes and oversized wings made them irresistible, even if their personalities didn’t always match. They looked like little kids, but acted like obnoxious teenagers most of the time. Still, they were a little naïve, and could be very sweet. Ryka would kick them out so he and Kyle could be alone, and the little ones would go, looking hurt. But later they’d wake up later under a pile of young demons, all quietly snoring and cuddled close.

“You think you would have learned your lesson,” Ryka had said, trying to wake up the ten little demons that had snuck in while they were asleep.

“I guess you’ll have to teach me again,” Kyle replied with a grin.

“Get lost, brats. We’re busy.”

“Again?” one yawned.

“Yup. Now, good-bye.”

***

Two Popes, both who had been named Innocent and both who had been far from it, knelt before the Devil’s obsidian throne and massaged his feet. “That feels wonderful,” Lucifer sighed, leaning back in his seat. “It could only be better if Judas were here. Though I suppose someone needs to get some work done.” The Popes, two of a number of morally bankrupt Holy men who served as Lucifer’s personal servants, said nothing and continued their work. Even the sudden arrival of Judas, in a swirl of hot wind, didn’t distract them.

“Lucifer,” he greeted, his tone flat.

“My love, come have a seat.” As he spoke, Lucifer began hiking up his robes. The only seat in the room was the throne, currently occupied.

Judas waited until he had them pulled up almost past his thighs to say anything. Lord Satan’s invitations were difficult to ignore, but Judas forced himself to focus. “Wouldn’t you rather discuss business first and get it out of the way?”

“Oh, I guess so.” Never taking his eyes off Judas, Lucifer straightened in his seat.  “You two, leave us.”

“Yes, Your Unholiness,” the Popes replied before vanishing.

Only when they were gone did Judas approach the throne. “I despise them,” he muttered.

“I’m sure the feeling’s mutual. Serving not only me, but also the man who betrayed Christ.”

Frowning, Judas looked away. The damned, who he should have been among, despised him almost as much as the demons. They had not taken kindly to the fact that Lord Satan had turned the traitorous Judas into one of them. That after falling in love with the human sinner. And the demons had had no problem demonstrating just how much they disliked him. His gray wings, the sign of his status as a former damned soul, still bore the marks of their hatred. They were full of tears and holes left by the wicked claws of his peers.

Of course, he had been too prideful to say anything, but it had been quite obvious what was happening to him. The only thing that had stopped the harassment had been Lucifer’s intervention. It had amazed Judas to see that his punishments for his children were just as harsh as those for the sinners.

“You’re daydreaming. Now, what was it that was so important you felt the need to interrupt me?” His tone was cold, but Judas knew well that Lucifer really didn’t mind. At least as long as he was the one that had disturbed him.

“You were looking for work for Ryka and Kyle, yes?”

“And you found something?”

He may not have been born a demon, but Judas had quickly learned to act like one. Wearing a malicious grin, he answered, “Oh, yes.”

“You’ve piqued my interest. Why don’t you come a little closer and tell me all about it.”

“Of course, my Lord.”

***

Kyle and Ryka looked back and forth between each other and Lucifer a great many times before either of them was able to form a coherent response. “Earth?” Ryka finally managed.

Smiling, Lucifer nodded. Judas stood beside the Devil’s throne, his face expressionless. It had been his job to find a suitable task for Ryka and Kyle to complete together, and he had found something surprisingly quickly. Now, it bothered him a little that Kyle, at least, would be leaving Hell for a while. Having been a damned soul himself, Kyle was the only other demon who didn’t look down on him, and Judas was sorry to have to lose his company so soon. Not that it would be for long.

“Yes, Earth. I’m so glad you were listening to me. Now, one of the Hell hounds ….”

***

His first trip back to the mortal world, after what had turned out to be forty years in Hell, had been a shock for Kyle. The changes that had been happening around him while he was alive had never seemed drastic. But now it seemed a lot had changed in a very small amount of time.

“It will be different,” Lucifer had warned, “but compared to Judas, you’ve only just left. And you and Ryka spent so long on Earth; you’ll fit in much better than anyone else. Trust me.” When Lord Satan had said those last words, Kyle had found it difficult to believe them. A century and a half’s worth of experience had proven them true, however, and now Kyle could look back on past trips back to the mortal realm and wonder what he had been so nervous about.

Of course, as soon as he started to feel that way, Lucifer made sure to make things more difficult.

***

Trench coat flaring out behind him, Kyle stormed back to the hotel. Carefully avoiding bumping into other pedestrians, he checked his watch again. A low growl rumbled in his chest. Only ten minutes until the scheduled meeting time and Ryka had yet to make an appearance. And he had promised to show up at least twenty minutes early.

For being nearly eight hundred years old, Ryka still behaved like a young demon. He was irresponsible and acted only on impulse. Though, Kyle realized, he did his fair share of enabling. He had always been weak to Ryka’s demands, even when they had shared the same body. And now that Ryka could accompany his requests with a pleading look, there was no way Kyle could deny him anything. And so he, a demon not even two hundred years old, catered to his partner’s every whim.

The people at the hotel’s front desk shot him a nervous glance as he hurried by, grumbling under his breath. He had just enough power to maintain a human disguise, but he found it increasingly difficult to act like a mortal, even though he had once been one. Most people, he had discovered, found it obvious that there was something not quite right about him.

Kyle didn’t mind, not anymore. The first few times he and Ryka had been sent to work in the mortal world, it had upset him that he no longer fit in as he once had. Then he remembered that most of the time he had been human, he’d been Ryka’s host and people had avoided him then, too. Besides, as long as he had Ryka, he didn’t much care what anyone else thought.

Love him though he did, Kyle was still furious. How hard was it to show up on time? Especially when Ryka knew how nervous Kyle was about this particular assignment. This wasn’t just checking up on another Hell hound, or getting a head start on torturing a few damned souls. This involved Heaven.

Temper growing the closer he got to their room, Kyle’s growl was quite audible by the time he finally burst through the door. “Where the fuck have you been?” he snarled.

In his true demonic form, and nothing else, Ryka was leaning back against the headboard. He held a beer in one hand, and held himself even more tightly in the other. “Good timing,” he greeted.

Livid, Kyle slammed the door closed behind him and stalked across the room. “What are you doing?”

“What does it look like?”

“But … I … is this the errand you had to run? You were supposed to meet me ….”

“I’ve still got an hour,” Ryka casually replied. “Well, we’ve got an hour. Get over here.”

“We don’t have an hour!”

Trying not to laugh, Ryka said, “Isn’t your watch broken? It’s always an hour fast, right?”

If he could have, Kyle would have curled up and died. Making this mistake once was bad enough, but this was at least the fourth time he’d done the same thing. “Sorry.”

“It’s okay. I know you can’t get rid of it.”

Like the pair of glasses that Lucifer now often wore perched on his head, the watch had preceded him to Hell. It was one of the first things he had bought with the money Ryka had won for him, but the shadow had accidentally devoured it. But a trip to the immortal world had forever impaired its ability to properly tell time. No matter how many times he reset it, it always ended up an hour ahead.

“Well …” Kyle trailed off, blushing.

“You’re cute. Now come here and sit on-”

“Don’t talk.”

Kyle shed his clothes, and the illusion that made him look human. His trench coat, a shabby dark gray, opened into a set of leathery wings, and his tail and horns become visible once more. “You promise you won’t talk, right?”

Ryka nodded.

Really, Kyle was just as spoiled as Ryka. He just would never admit it.

***

An afternoon romp in bed hadn’t done much to dispel Kyle’s worries about their rapidly approaching rendezvous with two of Heaven’s messengers. “Why are you so worked up?” Ryka inquired as they strolled out of the hotel lobby and onto crowded streets. Before Kyle could answer, Ryka continued, “Oh, you’ve never seen an angel, have you?”

“Well, I mean, Lord Satan, but ….”

“Yeah, he doesn’t really count.”

“Right. But then what are they like?”

A lascivious grin on his face, Ryka said, “Maybe you should’ve brought a change of underwear.”

“What?”

“Really. Mortals can’t see it, but they look to us like an incubus or succubus looks to a human.” That, Kyle knew, meant attractive beyond words. “Which is why they’d rather meet here than come to Hell themselves. Here, there’s only two of us to harass them.”

They walked on in silence for a few minutes. “Besides looks, what are they like?” Kyle asked when the crowd thinned a little.

“Are you worried? They’re angels. They’re not gonna kick our asses in an alley or something. Besides, we’ve always got a way out.”

Out of habit, Kyle looked down at his feet, where a pseudo-demon did a rather convincing impression of his shadow. Since he wasn’t as powerful as Ryka, the portal to Hell that had accompanied Ryka for nearly two centuries had been attached to him, just in case. “Right. And I didn’t think they’d do anything like that.”

“They’re just … cold. Heaven’s boring. The reward for not sinning is to never want again, and the angels are a lot like the saved. They have no desires. They’re all just friends,” he scoffed.

“No sex? Bummer. I’m glad I went to Hell.”

“You and me both, stud.”

In all the years he had been Ryka’s host, Kyle never could have imagined things would turn out the way they had. For being such a good host, he had been saved from eternal damnation by being turned into a demon. Now he was able to spend his eternity together with Ryka. Not that it was all fun and games. Having been a human himself, and much more recently than Judas, he and Ryka were often sent back to the mortal world to run errands for the Devil.

 Usually, they checked in on the thirteen Hell Hounds or nine Reapers that patrolled the realm, or tracked down sinners who couldn’t seem to wait to get their punishments under way. This was the first time they’d been asked to do something as important as make an exchange with angels. Kyle wasn’t sure if he was more worried about the meeting itself, or about Ryka’s behavior.

“How do souls end up in the wrong place, anyhow?” Kyle asked. They were supposed to be sending a mistakenly saved soul to Hell, and making sure one of the former damned reached his place in Heaven.

“There’s a really fine line between sinner and saved. And sometimes it’s hard to tell which way the scale is tipping, it’s so close. But once the soul gets to wherever, it’s more obvious. If a soul ends up in Hell and it shouldn’t be there, it’s like it never really feels fear or pain. And a damned soul in Heaven is paranoid, always waiting for its punishment to begin.”

“Oh.”

He stopped talking again when the restaurant they were meeting at came into view. It seemed a mundane place for such a meeting, but Kyle and Ryka had been told many times by Lucifer not to stand out too much. And if they listened to no one else, they listened to Lucifer.

“We can’t do the actual exchange here, so we should invite them back to our room,” Ryka whispered.

Kyle was about to scold him, but his words caught in his throat. Seated primly in the restaurant’s waiting area were the two most beautiful creatures, aside from Lucifer, that Kyle had ever set his eyes on. They both seemed to glow with a radiant white light, and Kyle knew right away that was what a real halo looked like. A man and a woman, both with silvery hair and pale blue eyes, looked back at him. But he was too busy trying to remember to breathe to notice their reaction to him.

“Told ya, didn’t I?” Ryka said, giving Kyle a shove toward the angels. They stood as one, and inclined their heads slightly toward the pair of demons advancing toward them. “Maybe we should hurry up and get a table before you get any more excited than you already are.”

“You’re one to talk,” Kyle spit back.

If the angels heard their discussion, they ignored it. The woman, wearing a smile that made Kyle’s heart pound against his rib cage, stopped right in front of him. “I’m Muribelle, and this is Quinn.”

“Uh, hi,” he managed. “I’m Kyle. And that’s Ryka. Let’s sit. Please.”

Muribelle laughed, a sound like the chiming of a hundred tiny bells, and agreed. She and Quinn, who had yet to speak, led the way, and Kyle hung back a little with Ryka. “So, what exactly are we supposed to do?” he asked.

“Just meet for now. We’ll work out the details and do the actual exchange later.”

“This seems really shady.”

“That’s how it always goes, I guess.”

They arrived at their table before Kyle had a chance to inquire further about the details of the transaction. Not until they had ordered their drinks and meals did Quinn finally speak. “You were a human,” he said, staring at Kyle.

Kyle wasn’t sure exactly how to take the angel’s sudden remark. He had been a demon long enough to develop a dangerously short temper, and his first instinct was to think of the statement as some sort of insult. But he noticed Muribelle staring at him in fascination, and realized they were more intrigued than anything else. “I was.”

“It’s very rare for mortals to be given immortal bodies like that. You must have done something quite incredible to please Lucifer,” Muribelle said.

Unable to stop himself, Ryka burst out laughing. Kyle shook his head, but couldn’t stop himself from smirking just a little. “Don’t even say it,” he mumbled. He was quite sure the angels didn’t want to hear that pleasing Lucifer was Judas’s job.

Somehow, Ryka pulled himself together long enough to ask about their actual mission. This seemed to be Quinn’s area of expertise, and he promptly replied, “We’ll meet again tomorrow at eleven p.m., in that park across the street.” Ryka and Kyle both glanced over their shoulders to the spot Quinn motioned toward. Even during the day, the park looked deserted. Kyle hoped that it would be the same at night, so they could at least temporarily do away with their disguises.

“If nothing has changed by tomorrow’s meeting, we can complete the transaction the following day.”

“Nothing’s changed?” Kyle inquired. “What would change?”

“Like if more of you were to show up, or one of us had to return to Heaven because of an emergency.”

“Funny that you’re suggesting we might gang up on you,” Ryka interjected, a low rumbling behind his words.

Beautiful as he was, Quinn still looked quite intimidating when he was angry. It became quite obvious to Kyle that although he was an angel, he did possess one desire – to have as little to do with Hell as possible. “I never meant to suggest such a thing. Of course, one of you could be called away as well.”

“We do both hope to see you again tomorrow.” Kyle also understood Muribelle’s purpose. She was obviously a young angel, and inexperienced, but seemed quite good at keeping Quinn focused, and making up for his cold attitude. Kyle supposed he served a similar function, keeping Ryka from completely losing his temper.

“Uh, yeah, us too.” Ryka didn’t appear to agree with Kyle’s reassurance, but said nothing. In fact, both he and Quinn kept to themselves for the entire duration of the meal, leaving Kyle and Muribelle to struggle through some awkward small talk. Aside from immortality, it turned out angels and demons didn’t have all that much in common.

As far as Kyle was concerned, they didn’t make it through their meeting fast enough. He practically dragged Ryka back to their hotel. “You horny or something?” Ryka asked, grinning.

“Not really.” Still, he quickly did away with all illusions and clothing once they were back in their room. Pretending to be something he no longer was had quickly become physically uncomfortable. “Well ….”

“Give me a sec. These fucking boots-” Ryka’s tirade against his footwear was cut short by the sudden appearance on the wall of a swirling black vortex. “Ah, shit.”

He would never have said it out loud, but Kyle was thinking the same thing. They only knew one creature capable of opening such a portal at will. “I’m not interrupting, am I?” Lucifer said by way of greeting as he stepped into the mortal world. More surprising than his sudden visit was the fact that he wasn’t alone.

Clinging to him, with claws tearing into Lucifer’s usually perfect robes, was an imp. And Kyle didn’t need to see the young demon’s face to know who it was. “Jinx.”

Huge eyes brimming with tears, the imp leapt into Kyle’s open arms. “He’s been a wreck without you, Kyle.”

“He’s not staying,” Ryka asserted, before either of them could suggest otherwise. Babysitting the youngest demons was part of Kyle’s job when they were in Hell. And they easily took up most of his time. It was the trips they took to the mortal world that allowed them time alone together.

“Just the night,” Lord Satan told him. Ryka wanted to argue, but knew better. “I’m sure he’ll sleep the whole time, and you know what a sound sleeper he is. It’ll be like he’s not even here.”

Neither Kyle nor Ryka had a chance to ask when exactly he was coming back to retrieve Jinx before Lucifer walked back through the portal, which closed behind him. “He’s not sleeping in the bed with us.”

“I didn’t say he was. Go ask the front desk for a cot or something. And get him some clothes, too, if you can.”

Grumbling the whole way, Ryka did as Kyle asked. When he returned to the room, cot and shopping bag in hand, Jinx was standing on the bed, wings open so Kyle could examine them. Although he found the bratty imp almost unbearably annoying, it still wasn’t easy to look at what the other demons had done to him.

Only twenty years old and the size of a four-year-old human boy, and without any power to speak of, Jinx was an easy target for his peers. He was a full-blooded demon, created by Satan just as they had been, but they treated him worse than even Judas had been treated. Tears and holes made his wings nearly unusable, and his tiny body was covered with scars. He didn’t have the strength needed to diminish them, and even so, wounds inflicted by other immortals were nearly always permanent to some degree.

“Why don’t you fight back?” Jinx didn’t answer Ryka’s question, but Ryka wasn’t too offended. The only one he ever spoke to was Kyle, and even then he didn’t say much. “You know, stud, you’re quite the pushover.”

Kyle smiled and brushed a lock of Jinx’s dark, tightly curled hair out of his face. The imp snuggled against his chest, purring quietly. “I know. But he looks so much like you did the first time we met. I can’t help it.”

“Kid, hurry up and go to bed. I’m going to do unspeakable things to your beloved Kyle.”

***

As promised, Jinx slept peacefully the entire night. Kyle was sure the entire building crashing down around him wouldn’t have been enough to rouse the little demon. With some embarrassment, he realized that that’s probably exactly what it had sounded like the night before. Though of course even the youngest demons understood those things.

“He still asleep?” Ryka asked with a yawn, finally stirring awake next to him.

“Looks like it. Hey, Jinx?” There was no answer. “Yup. Smoke?”

“Please.”

They finished their cigarettes in silence, watching Jinx sleep. Quietly, Kyle said, “I don’t understand why he doesn’t fight back. He’s too nice.”

“Funny thing for you to be saying.”

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t think I’ve seen you get really pissed off even once since we got our own bodies back. Maybe if Jinx saw you lose your temper, he’d realize it was okay for him to do the same.”

Kyle didn’t know what to say to that. As usual, Ryka made a valid point. Jinx was always with him, and what kind of example was he setting?

“Don’t beat yourself up over it. He’ll figure it out eventually.”

Too late, Kyle thought. The guilt got to him enough that he convinced Ryka to stay with him and Jinx the entire day. Once an hour, they ordered room service, always insisting a different person deliver it. A fresh victim each time made for a more satisfying meal, at least Kyle and Ryka thought so. But Jinx just watched blankly as one person after another fled the room, most in tears. All Kyle could hope was that he was at least absorbing some of their negative energy. They had no way of telling, since he refused to try and start a fire, even after Ryka repeatedly assured him no one would mind if the hotel burned down.

So preoccupied were they with caring for Jinx that they nearly forgot about their upcoming meeting with the angels. “I have the feeling Lord Satan’s not coming back for him,” Ryka growled. “Asshole.”

“They’ll be pissed if we bring him, though, right?”

“Yeah. And then we’ll just proving that Quinn bastard right.”

But if the angels knew about Jinx’s arrival, they never mentioned it. The four met only long enough to set up a meeting for the same time and place for the following night. For that, Kyle was glad. He wasn’t comfortable leaving Jinx alone.

So it wasn’t easy for Ryka to convince him to leave Jinx again the following evening so they could out to eat before their final meeting with Quinn and Muribelle. With time to spare before the exchange, they headed back to the hotel bar. “I’m going to go up and make sure he’s still sleeping,” Kyle said, unable to stop himself from worrying. The unusual pace of time in the mortal world seemed to have exhausted Jinx, and they hadn’t even been able to wake him long enough to let him know they were going out. “Order me something good, okay?”

“Sure thing.”

Kyle left Ryka alone at the bar, something else that made him a little nervous, and started for their room. He stepped up to the door, listening for any sign that Jinx might finally be awake. But he heard nothing. “Come on, sleepyhead, time to get up,” he announced, stepping into the room. There was no reply, and it didn’t take any searching for him to realize why. Jinx was gone.

***

“Fucking brat. Now I know why Lord Satan dumped him on us.” When Kyle had told Ryka that Jinx was missing, the older demon hadn’t seemed surprised. “He probably went looking for you.”

That had led them to investigate the park where they would shortly be completing their transaction with the angels. The thought that Jinx might reach them before he and Ryka did was almost as upsetting as the thought of the astoundingly defenseless little imp all alone in a crowded city.

Their hunt didn’t take long. The smell of Jinx’s fear brought them to a dark corner of the park. In a rare show of reason, Ryka suggested they check the situation out first before interfering. From behind a row of unkempt shrubs, Kyle and Ryka watched to see if Jinx would finally stick up for himself.  

Since he didn’t have much power to speak of, Jinx hadn’t been able to disguise himself in any way, and therefore stood out quite obviously. Kyle imagined that it hadn’t taken him long to attract the crowd of twenty or so people that now had him surrounded. He growled as they closed in on him, but the sound was far from threatening.

Murmurs of “What is he?” and “Who could we sell him to?” were easily audible to Kyle, and he felt an angry rumbling start to reverberate in his chest. But Ryka held him back, frustrating Kyle even more.

“Wait and see what he does. I think he’s getting pissed.”

Given that this was Jinx they were talking about, Kyle didn’t know what he had been expecting. The group had moved in a little closer, and a few brave individuals had reached out to grab the imp. Then the red light of demon fire had lit up the scene, and most of the mob backed away.

But regardless of the flames that now engulfed Jinx’s arms and wings, some of his would-be kidnappers refused to give up. He was just too good of a prize. Flinching away from the fire, two men managed to grab his arms and force him to the ground. In his panic, he lost control of his power, and the flames went out.

And then Kyle watched with growing rage as the crowd moved back in. Two people held down each limb, and two stood on each of his wings, keeping him completely immobilized. Even in the dim light, Kyle could see the tears streaming down Jinx’s cheeks, and it sickened him to see the imp struggling in vain against his captors. To have mere mortals so easily overpower him was obviously just too much for the little demon.

When one of the people stepped on his tail, and Jinx let out a high-pitched shriek, Kyle felt his entire body go rigid. Something in him snapped. With a roar that echoed on and on through the night, Kyle burst into the clearing, eyes blazing and claws at the ready. “Cowards!” he shouted, grabbing the first person that tried to run by him and easily snapping his neck.

Their hate and greed now turned to terror, the mob scrambled to avoid Kyle, but he was far too quick and far too angry to let any of them escape unscathed. And those that did manage to escape with their lives didn’t make it too far. Ryka waited a little way down the path, eager to deal a final, fatal blow to any who dared think they deserved to live after tormenting one of his kind. Being able to eviscerate the half dozen mortals that came his way more than made up for having to babysit Jinx.

When no one else tried to pass him, and the sounds of the massacre in the clearing seemed to have stopped, Ryka started back toward Kyle. He found his partner on his knees in the middle of a pile of corpses, panting. Jinx was crawling toward him, looking at once astonished and relieved. “Kyle!” he cried.

After taking a few deep breaths, Kyle pulled Jinx into his arms. His growl quickly subsided to a purr as Jinx snuggled close. Smiling, Ryka sat down next to them, opening his wings to shield them from view, should anyone dare to follow the trail of gore back to its origin.

Looking suddenly exhausted, Kyle leaned into him. “Shit.”

“Fun, huh?”

“It felt so good,” Kyle admitted. It shamed him a little to say it, but the truth was undeniable. The elation he had experienced tearing into human flesh had been incredible. And although he was not only surrounded by blood but covered it, he didn’t feel sick at all. Quite the opposite, actually.

“Almost as good as sex, right?” Ryka teased, taking Jinx from Kyle’s arms and setting him down. Kyle squirmed and made some noise that sounded like an affirmative. He dropped his gaze to the ground, but out of the corner of his eye, saw Ryka gently pushing Jinx toward the shelter of some nearby trees. He felt bad, but he was uncomfortable. Finally, he understood why Ryka had always been so predisposed to violence. “Need a hand?”

Embarrassed, Kyle shrugged.

“You’re covered in entrails, but you’re still more worried about getting caught fucking in a public place? Really, stud, lighten up.”

This time, Kyle’s response was a loud hiss. But Ryka wasn’t deterred.

“Kyle, that was the sexiest thing I’ve ever seen. And you know, if you’re still pissed, I’m more than happy to let you take it out on me.”

If he hadn’t already been close to succumbing to Ryka’s will, hearing the demon use his name easily made up his mind. Ryka still rarely used it, and paired with the lusty grin he now wore, Kyle had no choice but to give in. Briefly, he recalled that they still had to meet with Muribelle and Quinn. But as he watched Ryka strip off his red-stained jeans and then flatten his wings in a show of submission, the only thought that could be spared for the duo from Heaven was: Angels be damned.

***

With his desire at least temporarily satisfied and Jinx once again safely in his care, Kyle walked with Ryka to the place where they were meeting the angels. As the pair came into view, Kyle slowed his pace, allowing himself to fall a few steps behind Ryka. Not that it did anything to stop Quinn and Muribelle from immediately noticing Jinx, who had one of Kyle’s hands enclosed tightly in both of his.

Muribelle didn’t seem too bothered by the imp’s presence, but Kyle couldn’t help but notice how upset Quinn had become. “What is that?” the angel asked, in no way hiding his annoyance.

Since Quinn didn’t bother to mask his emotions, Kyle thought it best not to hide his, either. Reaching deep within himself, and thinking about how much he wouldn’t mind seeing Quinn burn along with Jinx’s attackers, Kyle growled. The sound worked its way up from the ground beneath his feet, and his fury amplified it into something truly unholy.

“You might consider choosing your words more carefully,” Ryka suggested, looking smug. It made him proud to see Kyle finally acting like a real demon, and he thought again that maybe getting stuck with Jinx hadn’t been such a bad thing.

“Let’s just get this over with so we can go home,” Kyle said through clenched teeth.

But as powerless as Jinx was, he was still demon enough that Quinn refused. “This is the kind of change I mentioned the other day. He has to go.”

“I’m not leaving him alone!” Kyle roared. “Look what they did to him.” As gently as he could, he opened up one of Jinx’s wings. Shoe prints were still clearly visible against the black membrane.

Muribelle looked concerned, and Kyle was sure she was about to try to convince Quinn to just go on with the plan, but Quinn spoke before she could even get a word out. “Terrible as it may be, this still voids our deal. Sorry.” Then, much more quietly, as if he thought Kyle might not hear, continued, “And I expected so much more from him, having been a human once.”

Somehow, Kyle controlled himself. His claws were digging deep trenches in his own palms, and his blood spattered like hot oil as it hit cold pavement. But although he kept a lid on his anger, Jinx had apparently had enough.

This time, his growl was much louder and much deeper. He left Kyle’s side and stalked toward the angels, stopping next to Ryka. But what might have appeared at least somewhat intimidating to mortals had no such effect on the angels. Quinn looked more than a little annoyed, and Muribelle actually smiled. Kyle was about to start telling her off when she spoke. “You know, he looks just like you.”

“Who?” Ryka and Kyle asked in unison, sounding equally baffled.

“Both of you,” Muribelle answered with a giggle.

The two demons looked at each, down at Jinx, then at each other once more. “Could he really be …?” Kyle started, his anger now completely forgotten.

“You’d be amazed what he can do. And that explains why Jinx is such a wimp.”

“Fuck you.”

“Wanna?”

“No. What I want is to finish this bullshit job so we can get out of here. And I’m not leaving Jinx alone, so you better just suck it up and do what you have to do,” Kyle said, glaring at Quinn.

Muribelle shot her partner a pleading look, and Quinn finally gave in. “Fine.”

Just as Kyle’s shadow reared up behind him, mouth open and flames licking its jaws, Quinn’s halo expanded in a burst of white light. For all the time and effort they’d put into setting this up, Kyle thought the exchange itself was a little anticlimactic. The two souls darted by each other before finding their appropriate homes, with no help from either angels or demons. It seemed their only purpose had been to bring the gates to the immortal worlds.

“You’re kidding me,” Kyle said. Quinn’s halo was already back to a subtle glow, and he could feel his shadow settling back to a reasonable size. “That was it?”

“Yup,” Ryka answered, picking up Jinx and starting toward the hotel.

“Bullshit.”

“Sorry. At least it’s over with, right?”

“Yeah. I need a drink.”

“Me, too. What about you, Jinx?”

There was no answer, and when Ryka checked, he found that the imp was already fast asleep.

***

None of the three demons noticed when the portal appeared on the wall. They had long ago fallen asleep, with Jinx nestled against Kyle’s side, and one of Ryka’s wings covering them both.

“Mission accomplished, hm?” Lucifer said quietly. With a start, Jinx awoke and looked up him, the sleep not entirely gone from his eyes. “Poor little thing. Don’t worry, those mean people are all waiting to see you again. Want to come play?”

Nodding slowly, Jinx extricated himself from Kyle’s embrace and slipped onto the floor, landing noiselessly next to the bed. He reached out a hand, and Lucifer took it. “I made fire this time,” the imp told him, wearing a proud smile.

“I saw. That’s even better than Kyle’s done so far.”

“But he’s stronger,” Jinx asserted, offended that Lord Satan was implying that something was wrong with Kyle.

“He is. You’ll be strong one day, too. Now go on, Judas is waiting for you.” Maybe because Kyle was so sympathetic towards him, Jinx also thought fondly of Judas. Without another look back, he stepped through the portal.

Lucifer lingered for a moment, fixing his gaze on Ryka long enough to wake him. “What?”

“Tell Kyle I took him home, so he doesn’t worry.”

“What about us?”

“I’ll be back tomorrow.”

“That’s what you said about Jinx, and that was two fucking days ago.”

“Oh, was it? Hm. Well, enjoy.”

Before Ryka could reply, Lucifer was gone, and the portal was closing up. Next to him, Kyle slowly opened his eyes. “Something happen?” he ask, not yet noticing that Jinx was gone.

“Jinx finally got picked up. And he’ll be back for us tomorrow.”

“Isn’t that what-?”

“Yeah.”

“Oh.” For a moment, Kyle considered going back to sleep. At least until he felt Ryka’s hand sliding down his back. “So, it could be a few days, then?”

“Yup.”

“I like that.”

“Me, too, stud.”