Deep inside the earth lies a special place called Hell. The devils who work there have no corporeal existence, few memories, and count the passing time in aeons.
It's three days before the New Year, a new millennium even, when Number Three gets stuck with the assignment to conquer the soul of a fallen angel, an angel dismissed from Heavenly services who now lives as a mortal among humans.
Number Three, in a brand-new male body, is surprised to find the fallen angel is no other than his old nemesis, Number Sixteen. To make matters even more fantastic, the angel asks for Three's help in rescuing his ice cream parlour.
But while doing so, Number Three encounters strange new sensations, among them a genuine desire to actually help Angel and find out why he fell from Heaven. Angel is a very distracting assignment, and Three's emotions as well as his human body respond to the closeness between them. When it's time to wrap up his task, will Three be able to return to Hell and put Angel behind him?
Angel was kneeling on the floor, picking up pieces of something that had once been a glass bowl. The kitchen smelled of spices that didn't go together. When Three entered, the ex-angel got up quickly. A nervous smile appeared on his face. Hurriedly he hid his hands behind his back. Three decided not to ask what that was all about.
"I need your certificate of birth," he said instead.
"You need my begyourpardon?"
Imbeciles! Didn't She teach them anything about living on the surface before casting them out?
"Your certificate of birth. It's a little piece of paper on which is written the date, time, and location of your birth."
Angel looked puzzled. "I wasn't born, I was created, you know that. And that was a long time before they invented literacy."
"Well, not that birth, obviously. When you came to earth, weren't you endowed with some standard equipment for life on the surface? A fake ID, personal history, all that jazz!?"
Three didn't inquire further after seeing the look on Angel's face. The man had no idea what he was talking about. The picturesque blue eyes shone with radiant innocence. Three pulled a face to show his dissatisfaction.
"She should take better care of Her own," he grumbled.
Angel beamed at him, something that made Three positively sick -- his stomach revolted wildly.
"She has other things on Her mind," Angel said.
"Well, she shouldn't!"
"Watch out, Three. One might think you care for me."
Three snorted by way of a reply. A wink, a snap of the finger, and the perfect forgery of a birth certificate appeared on the counter. He was about to take the document in question and leave Angel to deal with the mess in the kitchen, but his curiosity got the better of him. Indicating the pots, pans, random ingredients, and the broken glass on the floor he asked, "What happened here, anyway?"
"I'm not actually very good at cooking," confessed Angel contritely, "and the bowl kind of slipped through my fingers."
"Why are you still standing there, then? Let's order Chinese!"
"But clean up this mess before one of us gets injured."
"I will. Right away." Despite his words Angel didn't move. His hands were still behind his back and now he looked very uncomfortable and something else. Three knew that expression better than any other. It was pain, and normally it gave him great satisfaction to see it in anyone's face. It didn't belong on Angel's features, though. It made him look too human.
To ignore the something that was welling up inside him, Three asked, "What's the matter with your hands?"
The pain deepened. "Nothing. I'm fine. Don't you have work to do? You know -- papers to read."
"Show me your hands."
Three had to repeat it twice more before Angel gave in and held out his hands; one first, then the other. There was a deep cut on the left thumb and a long scratch in the palm of the right. Blood was smeared all over the skin making it look gorier than it was.
Three stopped the bleeding with a flick of his own hand, and both the blood and the cuts disappeared. When Angel's fingers were clean again, Three caught a glance at the skin. He hadn't taken the time since he had come here, but now he was curious: Newer bruises and cuts were everywhere, covering the delicate human flesh. Apparently, ex-angel Number Sixteen was a bit accident-prone. Missing the heavenly touch, the skin was left to heal in its own time. No doubt nobody had told Angel about that.
Angel withdrew his hands again.
"It's all part of being mortal, I guess. Gravity. Heaviness. I didn't know physical pain before. It's not particularly nice."
Angel bent down to pick up the rest of the shattered bowl.
Watching him, it occurred to Three how hard it must be for someone like Angel, someone who had always been protected from everything. He felt something then, very deep down in his immortal essence; something that bothered him. With a decided shrug he shook it off and went back to work. He did conjure up a brush and dustpan, though. It should be standard in every human household anyway. Really, these angels knew nothing about the devilish details of daily life.