Author: Guede Mazaka
“The Devil is justly blamed for much of the evil in the world; yet now and then he does a good deed just to amuse himself.”—‘A Young Girl’s Virtue Preserved by The Devil,’ John Bennett
* * *
“Here you are, Johnny,” Lucifer said with a broad smile. “It’s your very own little corner of Hell. The wall upholstering’s real human skin.”
Balthazar sat at his desk in ‘Johnny’s little corner’ and pretended he was a diligent little accountant that didn’t want to take his biggest, most sulfurous red pen and just obliterate the whole record-book sitting in front of him. How would Hell like that? For no apparent good reason, it’d chosen him from his generation to keep chained to the records room while the rest of his colleagues all were sent up to earth to make merry with the mortals. It’d denied every single one of the three transfer applications that had managed to make it past the secretaries—they’d sent back fifty thousand others for niggling little corrections like not stapling at exactly forty-five degrees to the page edge—for spurious reasons. And he knew they were spurious, because he’d come into the workforce with top marks and sterling recommendations. If he was stuck behind while Ellie, whose brightest idea of instigating sin consisted of wearing lingerie to take out garbage, went ahead, something was wrong.
Well, of course. It was Hell. But Balthazar had always been under the impression that the torture was supposed to be for the souls, not for the torturers. Not only had he been wrong, but now he also was about to be shoved down even lower than the human souls here: every damned soul got its own personal space and punishment, but him? He was going to have to share his cramped office with…with…
“This is Balthazar. Balthazar, John Constantine.” Lucifer smiled, smiled, smiled. Someone should really tell him that bare feet and pristinely-tailored suits didn’t say ‘nonchalant individuality,’ but actually said ‘hillbilly trash.’
John Constantine was tall, pale, skinny, and instead of horns or spikes or patches of worm-ridden skin, appeared to have a cigarette as his demonic trait. Oh, please.
Which appeared to be his expression. He completely ignored Balthazar, who’d gone through the trouble of standing up, for gazing around. “Get a dermatologist, stat,” he cracked. “Place looks like no one’s been down here since Nicodemus. Nice cost-cutting, Lou: who needs polka dots when you’ve got measles victims?”
Balthazar sat back down and seethed over his figures. The bastard could be as smart as he wanted, but wait till he tried to find the coffee machine. And no, Balthazar wasn’t going to offer any advice now, if he’d ever been about to.
“I’ll leave you two to get acquainted,” Lucifer beamed. He gave John a clap on the shoulder before dissolving in a shower of gold.
Unimpressed, John just seemed annoyed that the show had put out his cigarette. He cursed for a couple seconds and tried unsuccessfully to relight the tip with a brass lighter. “Fuck. Anyone got a light?”
That was it; the Bender family was getting collected early. One broad slash of red over the page, and Balthazar felt marginally better.
* * *
One set of accounts down. With a sigh of relief, Balthazar heaved over the gigantic, lead-heavy cover and wrestled the volume to the corner of his desk that contained his outbox. He got up from his chair and tiredly walked over to the shelf on the wall, which held the gazillion volumes in his inbox.
“Damn. You’re in charge of all that?”
Constantine had come up from behind without Balthazar noticing, and when Balthazar jumped in surprise, he jostled something in John’s hand. Something that spilled a scalding-hot liquid down his back so he did some more jumping. “You miserable awkward—”
“Hey, hey, you bumped me,” John snapped, grabbing Balthazar’s elbow. He smacked Balthazar’s other arm out of the way and yanked at Balthazar’s coat. “Here, get this off before the coffee soaks—”
Balthazar closed his eyes. Opened them. Calmly took off his ruined coat. “Do you have any idea how hard it is to get decent tailoring down here?”
“As hard as it is to get coffee that doesn’t taste like Lou’s backwash?” John suggested, holding up his mug. He peered into it with a revolted face. “Uck. Hey, did you notice that a bunch of harpies were holding the coffee machine hostage? Gossipy bitches…I tried to clean out all their shit from the filter, but I think it’s permanently in there.”
Had Balthazar noticed? Well, they’d been there since he’d been sentenced to this office, and everything he’d tried, which had even included deliberate clerical errors to lure cheated archangels into storming into the place, hadn’t been able to dislodge them.
He looked at the mug in John’s hand with interest that he hoped wasn’t showing on his face. “What happened to the harpies?”
“Huh? Oh, I just left them there. It’s stinking up the hallway, but I can’t find a trashcan anywhere…” John slowly spun in a circle and wandered off, mumbling with the occasional vague hand-gesture. “Actually, wonder if I could use those feathers…goddamn water cooler’s dry, too…place sucks…”
As soon as John’s back had disappeared from sight, Balthazar dashed to his desk and opened the bottom drawer. He glanced around, then removed the false back and reverently took out the single bottle of headache pain reliever he had left. Two pills, and he was almost feeling like his usual state of suppressed frustrated rage.
* * *
Balthazar carefully followed the miniscule page ruling across two feet to the last column, where he inscribed the proper identification number and date. Then he flipped backwards three hundred pages to find the right department, subdepartment, section and group codes. Then he flipped forwards, searched out the correct row from the couple hundred incredibly narrow ones on the page, and laboriously began to fill out the details.
Plink. Clink. Fwhiss.
The smell of tobacco filled the air. Ignoring it, Balthazar got down the first two codes, but had a moment of forgetfulness when it came to the third. He sat still and attempted to remain calm so his memory would retrieve it for him. Otherwise he’d have to consult a foot-thick manual written by Lucifer’s reaper-monkeys.
Plink. Clack. Plink.
The left back molar in Balthazar’s upper jaw was beginning to hurt. Eventually he realized it was because he was clenching his teeth so hard.
“You know, this is incredibly boring. Incredibly,” John said.
Balthazar reflexively glanced up to see the other demon flopped over his book, head on one arm while he flicked around harpy knucklebones with his free hand. John was getting ash on his page. It was dotting little burn holes in sheet, which was filled out wrong since Balthazar could actually make out letters from where he was sitting, and that meant John was writing his entries too large. The headache came back, but since Balthazar only had three pills left, he tried to fight it down by himself.
“I can’t believe they can get someone to do this on a regular basis.” John lolled over so he could stare at Balthazar. “Well, no offense intended, but…how the hell do you stand it?”
“I was assigned this position and I carry it out,” Balthazar answered through gritted teeth. He thought he heard an incisor crack.
Blink. Blink. Then John suddenly sat up and scooped the harpy bones into his head. He moved with a surprising grace, considering the abruptness of the movement. “No shit. And you haven’t ever complained?”
Something snapped in Balthazar’s hand. He slowly looked down: his pen was broken. “I’m too busy to talk,” he finally said.
“Right…” John muttered, a funny drawl dragging out the end of the word. He put his head down on the desk again. “Well, I’m taking a nap. ‘Night.”
Balthazar wished he had paperweights down here. He wanted to throw something at John, but he needed his pen. Even if it was broken, it was the only black one he had.
* * *
“Look, just consider the idea for a second. Lucifer has this weird back-forth thing with God, right? Everyone knows that.” John lay stretched out on his back on top of his desk. He’d abandoned all pretenses at doing work—not hard for him—and was talking endless nonsense while smoking cigarette after cigarette. No matter how closely Balthazar watched him, it was impossible to tell where the cigarettes were coming from. “But he really hates Jesus. I mean, he went after him like nothing else. Obvious conclusion? They’re brothers. It explains the father-complex Lou’s got about God, plus the extreme sibling rivalry. Lou’s the one that never got bedtime kisses.”
The three pills in Balthazar’s secret drawer were long gone. His pen had resisted all attempts to jury-rig it back together and so there were a hundred thousand accounts he couldn’t complete because black ink for those were mandatory. He was sitting around in shirtsleeves because of the coffee accident earlier, and he’d also lost his tie thanks to John’s little attempt to start a “friendly” spitball fight. He ground his forehead harder into his desk.
“Come on, what do you think? Totally out there?” John said.
Balthazar pressed his head down one last time, then got up and stalked over to John’s side. “Aside from the fact that it’s incredibly stupid and disregards both theology and the true history of the Fall—it’s possibly the best reason you’ve given me to kill you since you got here.”
With that, he launched himself at John.
* * *
Five Minutes Later
“…you know, that was the first decent cup of coffee I’ve managed to get out of that machine, and you not only spilled it, you broke my mug, too.”
“I haven’t had coffee in over two hundred years. The harpies were in the way.”
“Oh. That explains a lot.”
Enraged yell and second leap-and-strangle attempt.
* * *
Two Minutes Later
“…what, damn it? I was in the middle of something there.”
“You were sucking the blood off my mouth. And now you’re ripping what’s left of my suit.”
“Well, you weren’t really resisting.”
“I just tried to flay the skin off your back.”
“I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we’re demons. I thought that counted as foreplay…wait, how long have you been down here again?”
“How about choking you with your own tie? What about that? Does that strike you as foreplay? Does—damn it.” Desperate try to untangle hand. “That—mmmph!”
* * *
Twenty Minutes Later
Balthazar sprawled over John and traced patterns in the puddles of mixed blood and come smeared on the floor around them. “I hate my job.”
“I noticed,” John snorted. He rolled them over so he could put out his cigarette, then squirmed a hand down to tickle around Balthazar’s wrung-out balls. When Balthazar twisted and tried to draw up his knees, John shoved in two fingers and casually fucked him with them in a slow, slow rhythm that mostly accentuated the soreness down there. “But you really like getting fucked.”
“I also really like watching your eye grow back,” Balthazar snapped. Or he tried to, but the words came out sluggish and soft. He watched his tongue snake out and dreamily swirl away the dark purple crusts still clinging beneath John’s left eye. New left eye.
John scissored his fingers so Balthazar arched, tongue slapping down so fast he actually hit himself in the cheek with it. Flushing, Balthazar hurriedly pulled it back inside his mouth…where John promptly chased it.
“Bastard.” Long sucking nip at Balthazar’s lower lip.
“So did you want to look at anyone else?” intruded a new voice. Lucifer was suddenly kneeling beside them, looking like a pleased father. He swiped a clump of goop off John’s shoulder with a finger and sucked it into his mouth with an exaggerated sigh of pleasure.
Eyes rolling, John buried himself further in Balthazar’s ass and throat. “No, he’s good,” he mumbled. “He’s funny as hell to watch, so he won’t be boring like those assholes you kept sending me up with.”
“Those ‘assholes,’ dear Johnny, were the crème de la crème of my army,” Lucifer tutted.
“Yeah, and the best one lasted what, a week before some human got around him and got him speared by an angel? To hell with cream—I’ll take salt and pepper. I keep telling you, you want to kickstart something, you’ve got to have a kick in there somewhere.” John finally pushed himself up and grinned down at Balthazar. “And gotta say, there’s nothing like pent-up resentment for that. So, you want to keep doing accounts, or come up to earth?”
Balthazar needed a bit to catch his breath, which was convenient for several reasons. He stared from John to Lucifer and back again, but the both of them seemed to be sincere. That was, they weren’t trying to seem that way, so they probably were. “As…”
“Lou thinks I need a partner. I think whatever, but I like the way your face gets when you’re trying not to think about killing me,” John said. His fingers were still inside Balthazar, and their efforts had now been enhanced by more fingers sliding along the inside of Balthazar’s thighs. “So?”
So Balthazar nodded vigorously, clamped down hard on John’s fingers, and while John was cursing over that, dragged him down by the shoulders. Just a “kick,” was he…
* * *
Two Days Later
John surveyed the Tuesday night crowd and absently rubbed at his throat. The bruises there couldn’t be seen, but Balthazar had done something to them to make damn sure John could still feel them. Speaking of, where was that son of a bitch?
Oh, talking to Ellie with a big smile on his face like they were the best of friends. He made his goodbye with an elegant little half-bow, then threaded his way over to John. Ellie was still watching and Jesus, did her eyes get big when Balthazar nonchalantly shoved up for a mauling. Which John was more than happy to give, considering how goddamned teasing Balthazar had been in the alley behind the club ten minutes before.
“You know, Ellie’s going to be pissed as hell about that. She thought she was in line for partnering with me,” John murmured, pulling Balthazar around so his back was to John. “You just landed me in a shitload.”
Balthazar twisted around to give John an innocent look. “I thought that counts as foreplay.”
Oh, sharp. John laughed in appreciation and slid his hand inside Balthazar’s new sleek suit to savagely tweak Balthazar’s nipple. “Sure, whatever. Did you track down Midnite? We do have quotas to fill and plans to mess up and all that.”
“He’s conferencing with St. Germain, who by the way is secretly on the run from the Star Chamber again, and it just so happens that I could probably get a Chamber representative here in about two minutes,” Balthazar reeled off. He raised his eyebrows at John’s look. “What? Compared to Hell’s bureaucracy, this world is ridiculously easy to navigate.”
“Yeah, well, don’t get complacent already. For one thing, in this world we don’t always even bother with bureaucracy. Just easier to break a couple rules. There’s always someone stuck in an office to fix them later.” After lighting his cigarette, John pulled Balthazar into the crowd. Balthazar was a bit stiff at first, probably due to the reminder, but soon he was relaxed and into it. Good, because he had a lot to catch up on.