A/N: A giftfic for the single, most creative person I know, Delectat. Seriously, her artwork gives me goosebumps. She's the kind of person that you know once she gets discovered, she'll be right up there with all the inspirational greats. I hope she enjoys this.

This fic gave me so much trouble, it isn't funny. It affected me in a lot of ways. It took me to a place, terrified me, made me ill...but I finally, after months of blood and tears, think I got it to have the feel I've been envisioning. That said, I'm going to state here and now that this fic is not intended to offend. Some of you will undoubtedly be offended, but that wasn't my intention. Nor is it a slight against any religion. I'm merely exercising my right to freedom of speech, and adhering to what I believe Delectat likes.

WARNING: Dark themes, angst. Can't abide, then don't read. This fic may be termed controversial by some. If you're intensely religious and easily offended, then stop right here. You've been warned.

Beta: Blood Zephyr

What Lies Between

"Angels are bright still, though the brightest fell." ~ William Shakespeare



No, not waiting. Hesitating.

He'd transgressed, gone astray. And there would be a reckoning. His Maker saw all, knew all. It was known even now by Him, so it was not a matter of waiting to be Summoned; he'd had the will to go against his nature, therefore he must demonstrate his will and seek out his punishment.

It would be severe, he knew that much. He wasn't supposed to be capable of fear, but then that could be said of nearly all his actions of late. So he waited. Hesitated.

And then Sasuke ascended from where he'd hovered in the lower heavens.

Chapter 1

Heaven was a peaceful, stately, orderly place. Quiet. Joyful, yes, but a quiet joy. His Presence, too awesome and exalted to be confined by the mere dimensions of Heaven, nonetheless filtered down from where He sat above it on His Throne. This further gave Heaven an illuminated atmosphere of holy goodness and grace.

The angels therein didn't go skipping about with their joy or have the spare time to play harps, but they were a friendly, cheerful, overwhelmingly good bunch of beings who went about their tasks with their customary good nature. There was never outright laughter, but there were pious, dignified smiles, and kind words. Never was there any sort of agitation or upset, no meanness or discontent. Certainly no one was ever hurt, but then angels couldn't physically feel.

Oh, and one other thing. There was no free will.

Angels received Commands and carried them out happily. Anything else was out of the question. The one angel in history to ever go against Him was now running Hell. It was speculated on whether or not he'd even been a real angel to begin with, but not overmuch. Angels were too busy being happy and obedient to wonder about the one who'd fallen.


Sasuke was an exception to the rules angels lived by, simply because he was exceptional. He came into being like other angels, but received no specific task. Sometimes the greater angels were given the job to oversee the lesser angels. Having been created as one of these lesser angels, Sasuke had looked up to his mentor. But that particular angel was the very one who'd fallen from grace, so he was no longer in the picture. Sasuke watched as all his peers were assigned jobs, while he remained without. He reasoned that as an agent of good he must then go forth and do good, and so took it upon himself to energetically spread His goodness throughout the world.

Millennia passed. With the advent of man on Earth, a whole new host of problems cropped up, which pretty much began with that first angel's disobedience. Afterwards, demons, previously content to cavort in the depths of Hell, took it upon themselves to become attached to the sons of Adam and lead them astray. Great evils were perpetrated right from the beginning. Angels suddenly had more to do.

Sasuke was in his element, thwarting demons' actions left and right, averting disasters. Sometimes he saw other angels doing the same, but they never managed to compare with his deeds.

When he wasn't doing His work, Sasuke took to the lower Heavens. He often went there, watching the lives, the fleeting, brilliant lives of humans. He wondered. He thought. As his race wasn't supposed to be able to do. It was from here that he saw, and was able to prevent, much evil. Here, too, he could witness the good of mankind and feel pride in their accomplishments: A hand extended in compassion, an apology given, bread shared. He saw these things and felt pride in goodness and in being one of His instruments for good. Sometimes these tender sights caused an upwelling of emotion in him that he tamped down sternly. Angels didn't feel anything but happiness and awe of His magnificence.

Night was falling. As darkness shrouded half of the world, Sasuke remained vigilant. Oftentimes the worst evils were perpetrated at night.

Night time was the shit! That was when the real fun began, and the most damage could be done. All of humanity's fears came out at night, and those were always amusing to play with. Naruto whooped with glee at the frightened screams of the three young women he'd allowed to fall prey to a band of men. They were in the woods, camping and giggling around their little fire. The men trafficked in women and girls, selling them on the black market for the pleasures of the wealthy, and often used these woods as their hunting grounds. He watched for awhile, as they were raped brutally in order to be broken in to their future trades. He was soon bored, however, and sought other entertainment. Before leaving, he whispered to one of the men to have a cutting party with the youngest woman, a girl of sixteen. She really was too pretty to be allowed to live, and this particular man had a penchant for gore.

That actually afforded him a bit more fun. The man was skilled. Naruto followed him to his trailer in the woods, where the man prepared the girl for her final hours. The girl's screams were dulled with the morphine he pumped through her veins. He was actually able to slice open her abdomen with something that looked like an antique razor, one of those that had a handle. The man bent and lapped up the bright gush of blood, bathed his face in it, even cupped his palm beneath the flow and drank thirstily. Naruto had to shake his head in admiration as the man reached in and carefully lifted out a single, whitish coil of her intestines, handling it cautiously to prevent it from bursting. He drew out nearly the entire length of her entrails while she was alive and aware… well, somewhat aware. The girl's senses skipped a few levels up the evolutionary ladder due to the drugs and the severity of her pain; she clearly saw Naruto hovering behind her tormenter as he bent to cut out her heart. She screamed her loudest yet as the pumping organ was tugged wetly free, and it had nothing at all to do with the fact that she was being butchered. Naruto waggled his fingers at her departing soul, shrugging his shoulders in discomfort at the passing feel of one of them. He couldn't see the holy fuckers but he knew when they were around.

Towards the end of night he lucked out and found one of those annoyingly good vessels of purity. A nun. She looked like one of those trainees, one that hadn't taken her vows yet. She was driving along, no doubt off to pray to Him with the dawn or some other such fuckery. Naruto had himself a last bit of fun by doing away with her brakes. He gave her car an added little shove and sent the thing careening down the winding mountain road. He would have stayed for the crash that was surely coming, but he hated daylight and the sun was coming up. He disappeared to the soothingly dark caverns of Hell.

"Oh! Oh, God, no!"

Sakura pumped her brakes futilely. The mushy, unresisting feel of them alarmed her greatly, but she maintained her wits and steered her accelerating Echo around the deep curve. A glance at her speedometer showed her doing 75 mph and gaining speed; if she pulled her emergency brake she'd go crashing through her windshield, even with her seatbelt fastened, which it was. "Oh, please, Lord, help me!"

She'd just had her car serviced, too. She was a safe driver, obeying all speed limits and regulations. The speed for this road was posted as 50/mph. She'd been doing half that, what with the low visibility due to morning fog and the sun not quite being up. Besides, she was a naturally cautious person. Her gospel music was playing softly and she was singing along just as softly, awash in love for God and the glorious new day unfolding around her.

Her brakes had given out right beneath her foot. She hadn't even touched the gas, yet her speed had gone from 25/mph to 60 in the space of a blink and she'd had her hands full with the wheel. She continued to pray quietly, faithfully certain that her Lord would take care of her.

She ran over a pine cone. The wheel jostled briefly from her grasp, spun in the opposite direction of the descending, winding road, and sent her catapulting toward the flimsy railing. It was the only barrier between the road and a sheer drop into a valley thousands of feet down. The car struck this railing with an earsplitting screech of metal on metal. The hood flew up, and then Sakura knew a feeling of weightlessness.

She could see, from her side window, how quickly she plummeted toward the bottom of the valley. The car tumbled, revolved, and still she was conscious, still okay, not yet having struck anything. Her hands, gripped tightly on her steering wheel, were white.

The bottom was coming up fast. It seemed like forever since she'd gone over but it had probably been only a second or two. She looked at the way sky and earth switched places repeatedly, and the tension and fear in her body left her.

She was going to die, she knew that now.

A feeling of peace settled in her. Sakura closed her eyes and slowly released the wheel to fold her hands beneath her chin. If this was it, then it was her time. She had no real regrets. She hadn't quite been sure she wanted to take her vows just yet, but she'd always been a God-fearing person. She'd led a happy life. "Thy will be done, Lord. Take me unto thy bosom." She waited for the impact, her lips moving in prayer.

After some seconds, Sakura still felt weightless. Far be it from her to criticize, but the Lord sure was taking His time to end her life. She opened one eye and peeked out her window… then gasped.

She was flying.

Well, not her, her car. It was no longer tumbling, but sailing up toward the mountain road, turned right side up. She quickly pressed the down button for her window (which miraculously still worked) and leaned her head out.

In defiance of all, her car seemed to be floating on air. It was set down on the road as lightly as a feather, where it rocked gently before becoming completely still. All she could see now was the rocky wall of the mountain from her window, and the open space of the valley through the passenger window. She remained in her car, seat belt fastened, and completely dazed.

The abrupt and fearfully loud sound of the hood of her car being forced down frightened her so badly that she squealed. She groped frantically for the cross she wore on a chain. The hood lowered slowly, and now that she was looking, she could see fingers, a hand, gripping it. The hood was pressed down until it had no choice but to remain so, and Sakura was at last able to behold what had saved her.

He was huge and he was beautiful. Her glimpse was brief, but as the sun came up properly and struck this creature, she caught the distinct, yet ethereal sight of enormous white wings. The face turned toward her, the eyes looked into her own. She felt tranquility and serenity flood her mind, so that she smiled through her unnoticed tears. The wings, barely discernible, spread and swooped downward. Then he was gone.

Sakura got shakily from her car to stare skyward, her crucifix clutched so tightly in her fist that she didn't even realize she was bleeding. In later years she would say that she took her vows that day because God had saved her through one of His emissaries. The truth was that after that fateful morning, she'd taken her vows because she secretly hoped, in her heart of hearts, to see her savior again through her association with the church. To the other inhabitants of the chapel it seemed that she loved God devoutly through her ceaseless prayers. Only she knew that she loved the angel who'd saved her, and that she committed a great act of blasphemy by praying to him.

Sasuke stood in the lower heavens again, watching. An angel appeared at his side and stood with him, watched with him. "Greetings," this other said.

"Greetings," Sasuke replied. He pulled his eyes away from the sight of a couple kissing their newborn son to look at who'd addressed him. He stood straighter. It was none other than one of the highest ranking archangels. "Greetings," he said again, facing the angel this time in a posture of stiff attention.

The archangel, whose name wasn't known to Sasuke, continued to look at the couple and their new son. "That couple has waited long to be blessed with a child," he said. "Over thirty years. In fact, they are past childbearing age."

Sasuke shifted guiltily, then stopped immediately. Angels didn't feel guilt, because they couldn't do wrong. He was usually good at hiding his abnormalities. Still, he felt compelled to explain. "I know. I only brushed her, only endowed her with a few more fertile years, so that a child would be possible…it made them so happy, and they are good people, will raise a good son, you'll see-" The archangel said nothing, but Sasuke could tell he'd both revealed much and overstepped his place by rambling. "I'm just trying to do some good," he finished quietly.

"By taking a hand in matters of life and death?" the archangel asked mildly. His eyes never left the newborn, far down on Earth.

"I…" Sasuke recalled the woman he'd saved. "I don't understand why I'm being questioned. Others of our race go forth and do good."

"Because they are Commanded to do so. Were you Commanded?"


"Yet you do much."

"I do good."

"You do what you want to do," the archangel corrected. "And you have been monitored because of that. These latest acts of good have gained Attention." The archangel turned finally to Sasuke, and Sasuke wished that he hadn't. There was something in those eyes that had nothing to do with joy or good cheer, and everything to do with speculation and avid suspicion. No angel ever looked at another angel that way. "You've been tasked."

Sasuke felt an immediate burst of gladness, then let his sudden smile falter. "I've never been tasked before."

"No. You haven't. And yet you have done much," the archangel repeated. "One could say more than any one angel ever has. Which is why you've been tasked. Prove yourself equal to the task and all will be forgiven. Complete the task successfully, and you will be rewarded."

Sasuke didn't like the sound of that. Was he in need of forgiveness? And why was a reward suddenly available, when he'd been doing good for so long without one? "What is the task?" he asked finally.

The archangel pointed at the newborn without looking at him. "'Go you down to what you have wrought.' That is the only message given to me to give to you. I have passed it on."

Sasuke was just as suddenly alone. He stood turning the archangel's final words over, trying to divine their meaning, or the nature of his task. His eyes were drawn back to Earth. He looked down at the baby boy and felt his smile return. After all this time, he had finally gained recognition through his deeds. Swollen with pride, he descended to Earth and the elderly couple.

Hell was a dark, terrible pit of raucous revelry. The inhabitants were loud, gleeful, never at peace, full of maliciousness and spite. Evil was not only done on Earth but right there in Hell itself, against each other. It was a pit of excesses, desires, indulgence and, above all, pain. The demons were weaned on pain. It was like food to them. Thus they inflicted it on the humans and gloried in their misery, for pain had many manifestations; a human's inner pain was often sweeter than any physical pain they experienced.

The chief evildoer, and ruler of Hell with its many levels, strutted through the rutting, murdering minions he governed as he searched for one demon in particular. Up There, the greatest angels occupied the highest levels of Heaven. Down here, the greatest demons lived in the lowest depths. The one he wanted was at the very bottom, with three considerably weaker demons spread out before him. The shaggy blond head moved between one quivering, bleeding cock and another, sampling and licking and biting.


The blond head turned. "Master. Fancy seeing you down here, off your throne." He licked blood from his chin with a swipe of his long tongue. "Busy now."

"You're insolent."

Naruto sat on his haunches. The merest flick of an eye from their Master sent the three demons vanishing. "Fuck. I missed out on three tasty women up there, and thought I'd sort of recreate the experience here." He scratched his cock idly, staring with hooded eyes at his Master.

"You've been doing stellar work of late. That latest stunt, turning one who followed Him to sacrilege like that, though that wasn't your intention… a thing of beauty. Not even the interference that saved her life could cancel the result of your actions." He paused, considering Naruto a moment. "I have a job for you." He pointed upward at Earth with one long finger.

Naruto looked up and saw the couple with the newborn. He started to sneer, then looked closer at all the occupants of the little house. A glance at his Master confirmed his suspicions. He looked back at the house. "Why me?" He stood up, realizing the honor being bestowed on him.

"You're my strongest demon. This is a job I can entrust to no other. Succeed, prove yourself, and you will be given-"

"-A place at your left hand?"

"Naruto." The voice was a reproachful hiss. "You know that place is reserved. I will, however, give you a place second only to the one on my left. No higher honor exists. But fail me…"

Naruto snorted. "You know I won't fail."

Having been given no specific task on Earth, Sasuke thought the logical place to start would be with the elderly couple and their son, especially since this was where he'd been Commanded to go. He was confident that he would know his task when he saw it.

He was sitting at the foot of the cradle, watching the boy sleep, when a flash of flames in the corner of the room had him turning his head.

A naked man.

He knew right away that the man wasn't human. Sasuke took in the wild blond hair, but it was the red, slit-pupil eyes and long canines that named the intruder as demon. Sasuke stood up and placed himself between it and the cradle. Though he was highly interested in this sudden, strange turn of events, he spoke automatically, as he knew he was supposed to. "You don't belong here. Be gone, foul creature."

Naruto studied every detail, from the cradle being shielded from him, to the way he wasn't attacked out of turn. He noted these things, but his attention was focused completely on it. The angel. Demons ordinarily couldn't see them, not being privileged and such, but seeing as the assignment was special, he guessed the rules were different. Had to be. That was the whole reason for the assignment.

Sasuke had never seen a demon before. Unless Commanded to interact with one for a specific purpose, angels were above them in every way. "You are a demon, aren't you?" he asked now. The creature nodded once, slowly. "And you obviously hear me. I have commanded you. Demons must obey angels if they are commanded by them."

Naruto grinned. Oh, this was priceless. A noob! A fucking noob. This would be easier than he thought. Ignoring the statement, he looked him over carefully, missing nothing.

The angel stank of the perfumes of Paradise. He had to squint to look at him directly, but he couldn't deny that he liked what he saw. Even tainted with piety as the angel was, he could feel an elemental tug in his guts. He chose to ignore that for now.

The angel was tall. The same 9 feet as his own height, he saw. Very white skin, very black hair, very black eyes. The purity and clarity of him was a physical ache, one that drew him closer despite the stench of cleanliness and his aura of goodness. The angel's clothing manifested itself as a nondescript, blindingly white thing that seemed to have the substance of the clouds he probably walked on. It draped off one creamy, muscular shoulder and fell to just above his bare –sparklingly clean- feet.

Fascinating. But what he really wanted to see was-

"Show me. Show me your wings."

Sasuke frowned. The voice was not guttural, hoarse, or in any other way like he'd believed a demon's voice would be. It was pleasant. Silky-


-making him feel an urge to do what it said. It was deep. Sasuke tried to recall if angels sounded as pleasant. He didn't think so. Angels sounded quite normal in comparison with this demon.

"My wings? Why?"

Naruto was learning as he went, considering and discarding strategies, adjusting his approach. He would get farther quicker with this assignment if he pretended a certain level of ignorance, he saw…though his reason was partly true. "Never seen an angel before."

"Oh." Sasuke's brow cleared.

Naruto saw him stand up straighter. From the angel's bare back a set of enormous, majestic wings unfurled to fill the entire room. The rustle was loud, and the perfumed reek grew stronger; light glowed from within the angel, bright enough to obscure his features, so that Naruto understood that this display of wings necessitated the angel undergoing a partial reversion to his true form. He held an arm over his eyes as that detestable light sent spikes of unbearable pain into his head. "Fuck, enough!" The light vanished, taking with it the wings. Naruto laughed weakly as his headache receded.

"Don't you have wings?" Sasuke asked curiously.

Curiosity. Something angels weren't supposed to have. Oh yeah, this one was different all right. Inquisitiveness was the mark of a self-willed creature, not one who obeyed blindly. "Got tails," he grinned wickedly. "Nine of them." And he let them grow, swishing and lashing about to fill the room just as completely as the wings had done.

The subtle stench of decay and corruption that had appeared with the demon grew bolder. Sasuke wrinkled his nose. The tails disappeared.

Sasuke took his time studying this creature.

Nudity. Sasuke may have come across a nude mortal or two during his existence, but it hadn't been something he'd given his attention to. This demon, however, was impossible not to look at. Sasuke noted the ruddy skin tone, the single curlicue of blond hair that sat directly above the equally rosy organ…somehow that curl of hair emphasized the lewd practices angels never indulged in, but that demons were known to do almost constantly. The rounded muscles, neither too large nor too small, were the same as Sasuke's, and likewise seemed to bespeak lusts and desires foreign to Heaven and its inhabitants. The demon was unclothed. Exposed. Unashamed, and therefore unclean. Sasuke equated his nudity with sin-


-that temptation of all mortals. It was a fruit every thinking creature tasted of at one point or another in their lives. Without fail. Everyone sinned.

Except angels. Devoid of free will, created to worship and obey their Lord, angels were the only sin-free creatures of higher intellect in existence. As such, Sasuke considered himself safe from the perils and pitfalls of falling into sin. He felt free to experience the presence of the demon fully. Leaving the baby boy, yet mindful of him still, Sasuke walked up close to the demon.

His stench was foulness itself. The red eyes followed his movements. Sasuke saw how the demon winced at his proximity, and he had to admit that being this close to the demon brought on a feeling of heat. It was uncomfortable. This startled him. Angels did not feel heat or cold, pain or pleasure. Feeling something, after millennia of feeling nothing, caused Sasuke to creep closer still.

The sensation of sensation at long last gave him an odd feeling of elation. He felt as if his very essence quickened. Intelligent, articulate creature that he was, Sasuke could not say just what it was that fascinated him about this unprecedented event… only that his mind was fully engaged, and he immediately felt a craving, a desire, where he'd never desired anything. Drawn to experiencing more, discomfort or not, Sasuke hesitantly reached out a finger to touch the demon's cheek, staring into those strange eyes with their elliptical pupils.

The pain was immediate, making Sasuke snatch his hand back with a hiss, and the demon jump backward with a snarl. The demon rubbed his cheek, teeth bared and eyes narrowed, as Sasuke looked wonderingly at his hand. He looked back at the demon and saw that his organ was now fully erect, and the look in his eyes was altered. Sasuke stepped back, rubbing his fingertips together thoughtfully. "What was that?" he asked.

"Demons and angels are forbidden contact. I would think you'd know that."

Sasuke supposed he should have known that. Something else occurred to him. "Why are you here, Demon?"

"Got a name." The voice was still silky, but now had a resentful grumble to it as well.

"Don't presume I would pollute my tongue with your name, whatever it is," Sasuke said.

Naruto arched a brow. "Fine. I'll play along for now. What are you doing here, Angel?"

Sasuke moved to stand by the cradle once more, laying one large hand on the curved hood covering one half of it. "I have appointed myself guardian of this child. If you think to harm him, you will be stopped."

"Oooh," Naruto hissed lasciviously, apparently over his shock and disgruntlement at the touch. "Stop me, huh? That would entail more touching. I find touching you… interesting." He took hold of his erect cock and wagged it playfully at Sasuke, whose face tightened in disapproval.

"You're obscene."

Naruto pointed his cock thoughtfully at Sasuke. "Do angels have cocks? Seems like they wouldn't, since they never get to have any fun."

Sasuke was silent. Whether or not angels had reproductive organs, as the demon had been crass enough to ask, was not something he knew; the demon was right in saying that angels did not engage in mating acts. To Sasuke's knowledge, all angels were male. Demons, on the other hand, came in both genders and did in fact procreate. The sight of the bold genitals was fascinating. He briefly looked down at his garment and considered lifting it to inspect himself. No. There was no need for that. Unimportant, he told himself, whether or not he had the same parts as this demon. He waited to see what would happen next.


Naruto recalled his strategy to pretend ignorance. He slowly dropped his grin and proceeded to wring his hands, hanging his head. "I'm sorry. This is my first assignment, and I'm not exactly sure what I'm supposed to be doing here." He peeked up at Sasuke through his wild hair, pouting the way he'd seen humans do. "I'm used to being around my own kind, so forgive me for saying offensive things like that."

He winced, thinking that was too sharp an about-face to be believable. The angel, however, really was naïve, as he proved with his response.

"I, too, am out of my element," Sasuke said. He turned toward Naruto, his expression one of curiosity again. His body language said clearly that he was no longer on the offensive.

Naruto noted this and filed away the knowledge that so long as he didn't behave cockily and didn't mouth off, he'd sail beneath this creature's radar. All good. "So you forgive me then?"

"I was not aware that demons were capable of remorse," was the cautious reply.

Naruto intensified his pout, shuffling over to a corner to sit down. His eyes were sharp beneath his sad expression, judging every nuance of the angel's alert eyes. "I think I'm different." He turned his head aside as if ashamed.

Sasuke edged closer once more. "Are you really? Is that common amongst you?"

Since his face was turned toward the wall, Naruto allowed himself a hard, savage grin. That's it, you pious motherfucker. Feel nice and sorry for the demon who's different because you can relate. Oh, I got your number all right. He was careful to make his voice sound forlorn. "It's not common at all. I think I'm the only one like me. If you really want to know the truth… I was kicked out. Of Hell. I think… I've been banished." Naruto worked up a choked little sob.

Sasuke came and sat beside the demon, feeling that heat sweep over him again. He took a moment to savor the feeling, still a novelty to him. He knew demons were created of smokeless flames, just as angels were beings of light. Did the demon feel anything from him in turn? "I know what it is to be different. I believe I've also been sent here because of it."

Naruto was almost crying with the effort not to scream with laughter. What the angel said was actually true, that was the best part. Naruto's story was the one that was all lies. He concentrated on holding in his mirth, making his voice hitch. "You… you think maybe we were sent here for some reason? A reason not having to do with this family?"

Sasuke considered this. "In order to work together?" he said dubiously. "That is unheard of. Angels and demons do not collaborate."

Naruto quickly covered his face with his hands, struck with a brilliant idea. The beauty of it was so delicious that he'd burst out laughing despite his prodigious efforts not to. He managed to muffle and throttle the outburst until it sounded as if he were sobbing with grief. He kept his hands over his face to hide the maniacal grin he wore. He could sense the angel's discomfort, sense the fucking empathy of the creature, and it made his stomach boil with acidic hate. He entertained a vivid image of himself clawing that white face completely off. The eyeballs would get snagged on his claws, and he would have a fine time biting juicily into each one, letting the jellied filling ooze over his lips and tongue.

In time.

For now, he sniffed and calmed himself down, still covering his face. The thought of this creature looking at him with sympathy pretty much killed his mirth. "Maybe not work together," he said quietly, as if imparting secret knowledge. "I told you I was banished. I think being with you is my punishment. I'm probably-" Naruto nearly choked at saying it, but forced the words out. "I think I'm supposed to learn from you." He risked a peek through a tiny gap in his fingers and felt his grin returning.

Sasuke's expression cleared. That made sense. That made perfect sense. He, Sasuke, had done so much good upon the earth that he had been tasked with a mission of supreme difficulty: reform a demon, one who'd been cast out of Hell. His chest swelled with the faith obviously put in him for this task, one that was surely without precedent. "I believe you are right."

Naruto lowered his hands at last. The look on his face would have been clearly recognizable to any mortal as one of sly cunning. The smile was thin and smug, the eyes hooded with triumph. But Sasuke, free of evil in both mind and soul, saw only a smile accompanied by wet eyes, the last evidence of the demon's sorrow. "Since we're to work together, do you think I might know your name?" Naruto asked meekly.

A serious nod. "It is Sasuke."

Which was something Naruto had already known. "I'll understand if you really don't want to say my name." He hung his head again, closing his eyes as if he were in pain.

"I would be proud to know your name," Sasuke said.

Proud, huh? You poor, sorry, simple fool. "Naruto."

"Naruto," Sasuke repeated. In calling a demon by name he felt a strange kinship with it, a closeness he couldn't define.

Familiarity with evil, Naruto thought with private glee.

One hurdle down.

"Subtle he needs must be, who could seduce angels." ~ John Milton