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How to Befriend the Monster in Your Closet

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Hi God, it's me again. I just moved to LA and I'm really lonely. I need someone to be my friend, someone who understands me. Maybe... you could send me an angel? Yeah! The nicest angel you have.


A lanky demon swaggered out of a chipped doorway, leaving behind a cacophony of blood-curdling screams that cut off abruptly with a resounding click as the door swung shut. He pretended not to notice his coworkers’ awestruck expressions as the glowing numbers on the far wall of the scare floor began to spin. "Shane Madej" ascended up and up, until it was perched nicely at the top of the scoreboard, knocking his biggest competition to his rightful position of second place.

Speaking of, Shane shot Brent a smirk as he passed by. "Nice lifeless zombie costume, man. So convincing. They're not gonna sleep for weeks!"

"What? I'm not wearing-" It dawned on the bespectacled demon. "WHY, YOU LITTLE-"

"I'm 6 foot 4, actually!" Shane called back cheerfully. He sniggered. What a great day.

In fact, most days were like this. As Inferno Power Systems’ top scarer, Shane had the pleasure of getting paid to terrify humans in any way he could imagine. Each night, he got to pass through hundreds of portals into various bedrooms to acquaint people with their worst fears. Ticking off his try-hard coworker was just a bonus.

Maybe you need more context. So, contrary to the stereotype, demons aren’t cruel. They just take what they need, in the form of delicious psychological terror. Humans call it "nightmares." Fear fuels the underworld, and it’s even a renewable resource. Can humans say that much about coal and natural gas?

Demons are kind of like mosquitoes, actually. Yeah. They take your blood, (but only some of it, calm down), and then leave you on your merry way. Plus, mosquitoes leave a red, irritated welt in the most convenient location to rub against your sock cuff for a week. Demons leave you with nothing. I mean, do you remember what you dreamt about last night? Or the last 365 nights before that? Demons visit more often than you’d think. It’s kind of comforting; you’re never really alone!

Okay, so it’s not a perfect system. Sometimes humans remember their dreams. Those sleep paralysis humanoids twerking in the corner of your room while you struggle to breathe? They were all real. Sorry. But did they hurt you? Nope. Not even so much as a bug bite.

Sometimes, it’s the human’s fault. Shane’s grown tired of the stereotypes associated with demons. Flickering lights. The stench of sulfur leaking through the walls. A static charge in the air, causing goosebumps to ripple up your arms. Devices turning on and off unexpectedly. Alexa™ ignoring your begging to please, please shut off the crying baby ASMR!

Uh, yeah, that’s all you. That’s your fear, causing your environment to go haywire. Really, demons are doing you a service by taking it off your hands. Actually, they’re almost like repairmen! Uh, repair demons. Sure, you might be quivering in a ball on the kitchen floor, but if you’d just looked up, you’d see your microwave oven is working again! You can dry those tears streaming down your face with some hot pockets!

Or, maybe not. Shane sometimes forgets humans can barely handle any level of heat. To Shane, you’re all Sharon asking if there’s a lower spice level than zero at an Indian restaurant. (Sharon’s not having a great time in hell right now. Shouldn’t have left all those disparaging restaurant reviews.)

Is it really so different from farmers collecting eggs from their chickens each morning? And humans are, truly, chickens. It's so easy to reduce people to hysterical scream-generators, it was getting boring. Like, all Shane had to do last night to scare some woman was shapeshift into a series of graphs and diagrams depicting how Earth is heating at an alarming rate and all she had to look forward to was mass extinction, natural disasters, widespread famine and plagues that'd make the Black Death seem like the common cold. Just that was enough to send her into cardiac arrest. (But not actual cardiac arrest. Jeez.) These days, the quickest way to terrify humanity is holding up a mirror. But Shane digresses.

The point is, Shane was a kickass demon. The best. On track to becoming the top scarer in the underworld.

That is, until he was assigned to scare Ryan Bergara.

Chapter Text

It should've been easy.

Employees at Inferno Power Systems were licensed to shapeshift into anything they wanted to scare the daylights out of a particular soul. Bergara’s file noted that his worst fear was demons. It seemed like Shane would barely have to do anything.

“Don’t forget to fill out your paperwork afterwards, Madej,” croaked Roz. She was the ancient receptionist at his workplace. With her sagging skin and off-green pallor, the demon resembled a slug sporting cat-eyeglasses.

“Yeah, yeah,” Shane muttered, flipping through the pages on the clipboard. Okay, it looks like Ryan Bergara is also afraid of ghosts, bigfoot, and mothman. None of which were even real. Weirdo.

“I mean it,” Roz admonished. “I don’t care how high your scare scores are. If you turn in your paperwork late one more time, I’m telling our boss.”

Shane looked up, batting his hazel eyes. He was quite a pretty demon, if he did say so himself. "Ah, that darn paperwork. Wouldn't it be easier if it all just blew away?" He leaned on the counter and sighed fancifully, gazing off into the distance.

Roz was not amused. "Don't let it happen again." God, that voice was like a nasally death rattle.

Shane gave a mock salute and headed off to the break room, ignoring the taunting: “I'm watching you, Madej. Always watching..."

Well, okay.


Night One

Alright, one last scare. Then Shane gets to go back to his den and watch 'Love is Blind.' He's gotta hand it to humans for coming up with truly the most tortuous television. No demon could’ve thought of that one.

Well, Ryan Bergara of Los Angeles, California, looks like it's time we meet.

Shane's case file had given him the extra juicy detail that Bergara’s been messing around with an Ouija board. The cheap pieces of cardboard aren't legitimate, obviously. The great year of 2020 and humans still haven't evolved past psuedo-science. But, in the context of fear, it doesn't actually matter. It’s all about belief. And Shane was going to have fun with this one.

Time to set the stage.

The man's bedroom was just an offshoot of a cramped apartment in downtown. The human’s den was a little messy, with socks and other gym wear strewn around the gray carpeting. Still, it was strikingly ordinary. The only other noticeable details were a Mexican flag proudly displayed next to the closet and the tightly shut window, despite how hot and humid it was that night. There's gotta be some fear there... But what Shane was really interested in was the tacky, glow-in-the-dark Ouija board stuffed in the closet.

From the scare floor, Shane pressed his ear against the wooden door. It was exactly 3am where the human was, but it sounded like he was still awake, tapping away on his phone. Didn't he have work in the morning? It wasn't good for humans to get behind on sleep. At least Shane wouldn't have to wake him up.

He started off slow.

The closet cracked open, just barely. Creaaaak. Ryan noticed. He looked up from his phone, heart audibly beating faster. Shane closed his eyes, and conjured a stream of shadows crawling out of the closet. They twisted and contorted on the walls, creeping ever closer to his victim. Not into anything specific, so it was just enough to still qualify as "seeing things." Ryan rubbed his eyes.

"H-Hello? Is a-anyone there?" Shane scoffed. Did humans really expect an answer to that? Howdy! It's your local demon, trying to make you wet yourself so I can get a promotion!

The human's fear was mounting already. The dull red numbers on his bedside clock grew startlingly bright, before all the power in the room cut off completely. Pitch black.

"HELLO??" Ryan shrieked. Shane could hear him frantically jabbing the buttons on his phone. But, due to his palpable terror, it was already dead. Shane chuckled. Congratulations, you played yourself.

Time for the real fun. Shane squeezed his eyes shut tighter, and the Ouija board levitated out of the closet, glowing a sickly green against the dark.

"W-Whoa!" Ryan gasped. "No, no, no, no..." You might expect the human to run at this point, but they never do. Either because of sleep paralysis, or trying to convince themselves they're dreaming, or plain foolishness. Now, where's that planchette? Shane found the piece of plastic tucked into the bottom shelf. It floated out to join its counterpart.

"No, please! I'm sorry!" Sorry for what? Shane was able to get the planchette over the "Hello" pretty easily, but it was going to be hard to spell out the rest. Kind of like writing backwards with your non-dominant hand. Shane began to spell out his message:

"R-Y-A-N..." It was painstakingly slow. Luckily, Ryan was transfixed.

"B-A-G-A-R-A..."

In a surprising display of bravery, Ryan spoke up: “It's Bergara!"

"What?" Shane responded out loud, before mentally kicking himself. Through the cracked opening, he saw the human look curiously in his direction.

"If you're going to kill me, you should at least spell my name right beforehand. It's Bergara with one E and two A's," he corrected. Fuck. Why don't these damn things have backspace buttons? Shane started over.

"R-Y-A-N B-E-R-G-A-R-A." The human's posture relaxed minutely.

"There ya go."

"U-R G-O-I-N-G 2 H-E-L-L." God, that took forever.

"Wait, no!!!!"

Time for Shane to enter stage left. He whipped open the door. It hit the back wall with a SLAM! Bergara squealed.

"You're coming with me, human." Shane's "demon" voice was like nails on a chalkboard, but in a much lower register.

"I c-can't believe I'm going to Hell," Ryan despaired. Hot tears rolled down his cheeks. "I've always tried to be a good person. I even went to church sometimes. Is this because I haven't been to confession since that first time?"

Shane scratched his head. That wasn't part of the script.

"Sure, I guess. Yeah."

The human's face had gotten so puffy. "But you don't understand! The first time I went to confession, I humiliated myself so badly, I could never go again. It started out okay; the priest told me to confess and I said I stole my brother's Pokémon cards from his happy meal." Ryan looked up at Shane's perplexed expression.

"I know, I know. But they were limited edition! Anyways, the priest asked if I was sorry and I said yes and he asked if I was going to pray and I said yes and then..." Ryan swallowed. "When he raised his hand over my forehead, I didn't realize that was some fancy blessing gesture. I was just a kid; I didn’t know! And then... smack!" He weakly clapped his hands together in demonstration. “I high-fived him! He was so angry, his face got red. How was I ever supposed to come back from that? I high-fived a damn priest!”

Ryan covered his mouth. “S-sorry! I didn't mean to swear!”

“Uh... sure. Yeah, that's why I'm taking you to Hell. Ready to go?”

“Of c-course I’m not r-ready to g-go. Please,” Ryan begged, “I’ll do anything! I’ll c-confess all my sins right now. So, when I was 11, I-”

“Too late, buddy.” And he could really confess it all in one night? It would take most humans weeks.

Sobs continued to shake the puny human's body. Not the mood Shane was going for. "My-my brother's graduating this year, and I'm not even g-going to get to see it."

"We could livestream it, if you want..." Shane offered.

"Oh God, my parents are going to have to bury their own child... How are they ever g-gonna r-recover from that?"

"Therapy?"

The man was inconsolable.

Okay, see, in the underworld there's a significant difference between tears of misery and tears of impending doom. The former doesn't do anything for the power generators. And, like Shane said, demons aren't cruel.

“Hey, hey… don’t cry, man.” Ryan looked up incredulously. “Uh, yeah. It’s okay, like, you’re fine, dude.” The baffled expression didn't change. Looks like Shane had to spell it out for him. He sighed.

"I'm saying, cut it with the waterworks. I wasn't actually going to kill you or drag you to Hell." Shane rolled his eyes.

“What... WHAT KIND OF DEMON ARE YOU?”

That was ungrateful. This was the first time Shane had ever broken character, and this is what he gets for it?

He placed his hands on his hips. “I’ll have you know I’m the TOP scarer from down under.”

The human looked dumbfounded. “You’re... from Australia?"

"What? No. I'm from HELL!" Shane was aware he sounded like an eighth grader after her first shopping spree at Hot Topic. Leave him be. "And I certainly frightened your little ass."

This human wasn't very coherent. "I’m… you… w-what the... I’M FIVE-TEN!”

Shane snorted. “Wow. I guess if I really wanted to scare you, should’ve just brought a measuring tape.” Ryan sat up defiantly, shoving the sheets off.

“Careful, you wouldn’t want to scare yourself, too. I could measure that massive head of yours. That big ol' noggin probably has its own center of gravity.”

God. This was like being roasted by a windmill, or a water turbine. The fuel sources weren’t supposed to talk. Shane stalked forwards, menacing over the small man with his apparently colossal cranium. Ryan cowered and pulled the covers back up. Amazing that humans think that’s going to protect them.

Shane leaned in close, taking in the human’s messy hair and dark, wide eyes.

“Boo.” Ryan flinched. Shane’s eyes went black.

“Ahhh!”

Well, at least he got a little scream. Whatever. Shane’s been assigned to hundreds of humans over the course of his career; there was bound to be a fluke at some point. He turned to leave.

“Wait…” Seriously? “That eye thing, what does it do exactly?”

“Uh, I literally just showed you? It scares the crap out of people.”

“No, I mean like... Isn’t it a second sight or something? Or does it help you see the future, or…”

“What? No! I don’t know, it’s just a thing, okay?” This human was borderline racist. Was he going to ask the Asian man why his eyes are like that? No, because Shane had basic manners. “Well, why do you humans have so many substances coming out of so many orifices? It’s just gross, man.”

Ryan giggled, in a definitely not adorable way. “I don’t know!”

“Well, okay. Uh...” Shane couldn’t finish this scare session on such a low note. He refused. Didn’t Bergara’s file say he was a Disney fan? “Well, I’ll have you know that some of the skeletons on Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean ride are real! How about you dream about that tonight?”

Ryan’s expression was thoughtful for a moment. "Wait, really? That’s so cool-”

“IT’S NOT COOL!” Shane slammed the closet door behind him, ignoring the pleas to wait, wait tell me more!


Scare Meter: 75%

Not Shane’s best, as Brent so helpfully pointed out.

Chapter Text

Time for sweet redemption.

Shane took one last look at himself in the break room mirror. He’d opted for the more stereotypical demon look this time, because apparently that’s what it takes to scare the little twerp. He still looked like himself, but with a nice pair of horns and razor sharp claws. The forked tail wasn’t bad either, but it was kind of hard to control. Almost had a mind of its own.


Night Two

Aaaaaaaand, action!

Shane puffed out his chest as he burst through the door. Ryan jolted awake and yelped, knocking a few pillows to the floor. At least he'd actually been getting some sleep tonight. Shane smirked. But not anymore.

Gaining confidence from the human’s violent trembling, Shane took a step forward.

*Record scratch*

Alright, time for a little ~author’s note.~ Shane would like to tell you that this is where he finally gave Ryan Bergara a good, organic scare. He’d like to tell you that this was where his creative theatrics caused Ryan Bergara to shit himself, wrap up his blanket like an oversized poo burrito, and drag it out to the dumpster out back. He’d like to tell you a lot of things. Alas, artistic integrity is too important.

Shane wiped out.

And not a little stumble he could play off. Nooo. Shane tripped over his own tail. And when he tried to smooth it over, he stepped on the tail, which really fucking hurt, thank you very much. He bleated in pain, blindly thrashing around for something, anything to grab onto.

He ended up clutching the Mexican flag while his lanky legs floundered around like it was his first time in roller blades. Wrong move. With a rrrrrrip, the banner tore from the wall, somehow swaddling Shane like a baby with an alarmingly colorful vocabulary:

“Shit-fuck-shitfuck-goddammit...”

Shane hit the floor with a thud.

Ryan just stared.

Oh, God. This was worse than when Shane stepped on that child’s LEGO, spawning flashbacks to the sixth circle of hell. Shane unsheathed his claws and attempted to shred himself out, but there was just so much of it, and it was dark and he couldn’t see that well, okay?

Ryan hadn’t moved.

“FEAR ME!” Shane growled in his most menacing voice.

... 

...

...

“Let me help you up.”

“No!” Shane accidentally protested in his normal voice. Much too high. He cleared his throat. “I just need to-” He squirmed in his green, white, and red restraints. “... Fine.” The inchworm act wasn’t going anywhere, anyways.

The human came over and patiently helped Shane untangle himself. Even offered a hand to pull him up. Shane snatched his hand back as soon as he could. Human contact was so soft and warm and gentle; it’s just wrong.

“So, uh…” Was the human trying to make conversation with him?!

“You didn’t see this. Get back into bed and I’ll go back in the closet. Okay? Okay.”

Shane slowly counted to thirty, carefully tucking his tail behind himself.

Aaaaaaaand, action!

“FEAR ME, HUMAN!”

Ryan burst into laughter, clapping his hands in delight. Huh? Wrong reaction. This wasn’t Shane’s improv comedy class.

“Why aren’t you scared?” he whined.

“Because this is the funniest dream I’ve had all year.”

Shane almost told him it wasn’t a dream, before thinking better of it. Human/demon confidentiality and all that.

“Hmph,” Shane huffed. He crossed his arms and glared at the stupid Paddington Bear on the bookcase. What’s he looking at, huh?

“Aww, don’t look like that.” Shane turned his attention back to the irritatingly unflappable human. “It was pretty good. Like, you were almost there.” Shane’s mouth fell open.

“You’re comforting ME?”

“Hey, it's alright. You just seem like you need some pointers. First off, you’re too attractive to be scary.”

???????

“Yeah, like if you really wanted to disturb me, ya gotta be like... my middle school gym teacher,” Ryan suggested. “He definitely wasn’t a looker. Quite the asshole, too. That pacer test scarred me for life. I can still hear those beeps sometimes.” He shuddered. The closest reaction to fear Shane’s seen from him, and he didn’t even cause it.

“What- you shouldn’t… I don’t need your advice!” Shane sputtered.

“Okay, okay,” Ryan placated. “How about you try again tomorrow night? I’ll give that first one a 6/10. You started off strong, but it kinda ruined the illusion when you broke character. Tonight…” Ryan rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “More of a 4/10. But that’s okay! It doesn’t mean you’re backtracking or anything. Just means there’s plenty of room for improvement.”

Shane didn’t know much about Earth's educational system. But if teachers were anything like this human instructing him on his own job, Shane could understand why Ryan hated that guy so much.

Speaking of, Ryan was watching him patiently, like he was letting him process. Condescending was what it was.

“... Statistically, people swallow 5 spiders in their sleep each year. Think about THAT, human!” Shane snapped.

And with that, he was gone.

At least that dumbfounded expression was somewhat satisfying.


Scare Meter: 60%

God damn it.

Chapter Text

You know what? It’s cool. It’s fine, it really is. Sometimes it just takes three or four tries to destroy a human soul beyond recognition. This soul just has, like, beginner’s luck. Yeah. We carry on.


“What the fuck are you wearing?”

“Shut up, Bront.”

“Really? That bit is getting old. And now you've got everyone else calling me that. I KNOW you all know my name. Demon Resources says you can't-”

“Yeah, whatever, Brant.”

Sometimes, Shane liked to play a little game with himself to see how many colors of the rainbow he could make appear on his banana string of a coworker. He's managed to paint him red/orange in the face, a pale yellow, a sickly green, a pink flush in the cheeks… All that was left was blue and purple. If you have any ideas for those, let Shane know.

Besides, it was none of his damn business. He wouldn’t understand, anyways. Brunt still thinks the peak of horror is infesting an assignment’s bedroom with snakes. Boooring. It’s been done, Bront! He probably personally identifies with the creatures. Heh.

Art, whether appreciated or not, is still art. If a masterpiece falls in the forest… you get the point. No one appreciated Van Goph during his time, either. (Don’t worry, he’s in the frilly place.) And Shane had gotten this look down to a tee.

Really. Shane Alexander Madej had stayed at work. Late. Researching. I know, I know. He had to check whether home froze over, too. But it’d all be worth it. Oh, yes it would...


Night Three

1:45am. At this point, the human was expecting Shane at ~the devil's hour~. Arriving a little earlier would catch him off guard. Might even catch him in a towel or something. He’d be so freaked, he’d drop it! Not that Shane wanted to see that. Just wanted him to be scared, of course. Moving on.

No slow creaaaks or heavy SLAM tonight. Shane was going to open the door like a normal human. Because that’s exactly what he was.

Shane made his entrance, and his victim looked up with a startled “Oh!” He’d been writing something on the desk. Fully clothed. Dang. Ryan spun around in his chair. His mouth fell open as he looked Shane up and down.

That’s right, little guy. Take it in.

With a stunned expression, Ryan slowly reached for his phone. Oh, jeez. If Shane scared another assignment into calling 911, he’d be in big trouble with the boss. Emergency service workers were too important to be distracted. (Demons. Aren’t. Cruel.)

“No, don’t-”

FLASH!

“-HAHAHAHAHHAHAAAH!”

Wait, what?

“Dude,” Ryan wheezed, “I didn’t- I didn’t mean for you to LITERALLY-” He broke off into cackles, clutching his belly. The human’s not having some kind of episode, right? Maybe Shane should call 911.

“... You good?”

“Oh, man.” Ryan wiped his eyes with his sleeves. “I’m good, hahahah. I am so much more than good. And Mr. Miller wouldn’t ask me that.”

Oh, right. Don’t break character.

“Ahem. Listen up, students. Uh, student. Time to line up for the pacer examination.” Shane did his best to imitate the gruff voice of a 55-year-old chain smoker. (Teachers really shouldn’t smoke. What kind of role model is that?)

“Nooooo!” Ryan chuckled. “Pleaseeee! I forgot my gym clothes! Uh, I have a music lesson!” He was giggling like Shane when he plays a doll brandishing a knife.

Was… the human... joking with him?

Shane spun around, searching beseechingly in his reflection on the closet door. Mirror, mirror on the wall, why the fuck isn’t the human begging for his mother?! Shane didn’t understand; he was practically a doppelgänger. He did it perfectly! Headband: check. Arm bands: check. A white, disturbingly seethrough t-shirt, stuffed into blaring red shorts: check. He even got the striped high socks! WHY ISN’T HE PRAYING?

“Wait, turn around again.”

“No,” Shane said self-consciously, crossing his arms.

“Please, man. Please. I need to see if it’s there.”

“No!” Did Shane forget some skin again? So annoying that human skin covers their whole body. At least the last time he forgot to put skin on his costume's face, it worked in his favor.

“I have to…” Did the human have asthma? “I have to tell Ricky. Oh my God.” Ryan picked up his phone, still freaking chuckling. “Wait, you're not in my picture!”

“B-Because this is a dream!” (It's demons that don't show up on camera, not vampires. Come on, don't tell me you thought those were real.)

“Oh, yeah. Right. Of course.” Ryan pocketed his phone, looking up at Shane expectantly. As if suggesting for him to get on with it.

Look, Shane knows when to cut his losses. He didn’t have “Five Facts That Will Make You Lose Sleep Tonight.” (That Buzzfeed article was too long.) But he did have one last trick:

He stalked towards Ryan as gracefully as two knee replacements and a herniated disc would allow. Ryan put his sleeves to his mouth, stifling a giggle. His pupils were dilated wide. That’s normally a good sign.

Shane leaned in close.

phWEEEEEEEET!

“AHHHH!” Ryan clapped his hands over his ears.

Well, a scream is a scream. Thank Satan, Shane remembered to accessorize. He let the whistle return to hanging loosely around his thick neck.

“Bye, human.”

“Oh my god, you DID remember the permanent sunburn. He was always such a red neck! HAHAH-”

Slam!


Scare Meter: 99%

The fuck?

Chapter Text

"I know we talk a lot about matching each human with their individual fears at Inferno, but that's not all that matters. Scarer/scaree fit is just as important. It's okay if you and Bergara aren't having chemistry; I have hundreds more assignments for you. How about this nun in Connecticut? Or this politician? His worst fears are accurate reporting, being wrong, and people making fun of the size of his hands."

Shane crossed his arms. He didn't need Steven to explain how the job worked. In fact, it was a little offensive that his manager didn't have more faith in him.

He was going to figure this out.


Alright, not demons. Not humans. Not demonic humans (gym teachers). But Shane had plenty more ideas.

Next up, bigfoot.


Night Four

Shane looked awesome. He almost wanted to videotape himself frolicking through a tulip field and "accidentally" make it go viral. (That's against the rules, unfortunately.) His chalky gray fur was so silky, he was like the Herbal Essences™ of apes. The feet made him feel like a child waddling around in his father's shoes. Clump, clomp, clump. But it's all good. Because Shane's hulking, burly body was enough to intimidate anyone, especially a human so teeny. Unfortunately, that actually ended up being an issue.

Because Shane couldn't fit through the door.

The sasquatch squeezed and squeezed, making undignified sounds as he turned this way and that just to get in. His costume was strong enough to bust through the door frame, but that's also against the rules. Don't want to leave any evidence. Ryan didn't even offer to help this time, choosing instead to make these ridiculous wheezing noises. He sounded like that squeeze toy that man in Germany was so inexplicably petrified of.

When Steven asked about it later, Shane almost said he was laughed out of the room. But he couldn't get in the fucking room to begin with.


Scare Meter: 98%

The thing's definitely broken. Shane's still taking the credit; this is the hardest he's worked at this damn job.


Night Five

Shane walked in just in time to catch Ryan hastily stuffing a journal behind his pillow.

“How to Befriend the Monster in Your Closet” was scrawled in Sharpie on the cover.

He knows I’m real?! Yikes.

Shane stared at Ryan.

Ryan stared at Shane.

"Uh, I really like your mothman cosplay-"

“... Popcorn,” Shane muttered as he retreated to the closet.

“What?” Shane stuck his head back out, antennas pointing in different directions.

“Pop. Corn. And for the love of God, not the ‘I can’t believe it’s not butter’ kind.”

Slam!


Scare Meter: 0%

Guess they got it working again?

Also, God fucking damn it.

Chapter Text

Sometimes, Shane remembers that where he lives is, indeed, Hell.

“This is the worst- this is the worst-"

“Hey, listen…”

“-You are the WORST!”

“Now, Shane…”

“Don’t you now Shane me. I hate looking at your stupid face. I wanna smash it!”

Okay, maybe Shane’s a little grumpy. But wouldn’t you be a little grumpy if your manager placed you in mandatory counseling over your job performance? Would you be grumpier if the counselor was your worst friggin' enemy?!

“Listen, the sooner you start talking, the sooner we can both get out of here. Why don’t you tell me what’s been on your mind?” Brent patiently set his coffee mug on the table.

“Why don’t you go fuck yourself? Analyzing someone’s star sign is NOT a valid field of psychology.” Those rumors that reading your horoscope invites demons? All true. And even worse, it invites the most idiotic of them. “I don’t even think astrology is something you can be certified in? How the hell did you convince Steven to agree to this?!”

Bront started writing in his stupid notebook with his stupid pen.

“Spoken like a true Taurus,” he muttered.

“I CAN HEAR YOU, BRICK!”

Brant continued dictating: “Hearing: check. Emotional intelligence: not present.”

“And why the hell do I need ~emotional intelligence~? I just want to do my fucking job.”

Brisket looked up at Shane with understanding eyes.

“That’s why we’re here, buddy. You have to get past this mental block so you can start performing consistently again. And that's okay. Everyone goes through slumps; it’s normal. And I hope you can come to think of this as a safe space, Shane.” Block spoke with genuine empathy and concern. Gross.

“Look, I don’t know why I’m here, when it’s the meter that’s the problem. The dang thing is broken; it’s been all over the place!”

Broccoli frowned at his notes. “Tendencies to project…”

“Stop writing about me like I’m not here!” Breakfast closed the notebook.

“I’m sorry, Shane. You’re right; I’ll give you the attention you deserve. Everybody deserves to be listened to and understood.”

“I swear to God, Brett, if I was in a room with you, the guy who killed Cecil the lion, and the dick that invented algebra, and I had a gun with only two bullets, I’d shoot you twice.”

“Let’s talk about this anger. Are you feeling a loss of control?”

“Of course I am! Because the meter’s not fucking working!”

“Alright, then. Circling back to this meter. Let’s explore that a little. When did it all go wrong?”

“When my puppy got steamrolled by an ice-cream truck in 5th grade," Shane deadpanned. "No, you idiot! When I started working with Ryan Freaking Bergara.”

“Ryan Bergara,” Brian hummed, like he was trying to sound intelligent. “What’s your relationship with this man?”

“Uh, there is none? Every night, I break into his room with a killer skit and every night he just laughs like a psychopath. Did you ever think of sending him to therapy? He’s fearless; there’s something wrong with him.”

“So, you’re saying your efforts to impress Ryan aren’t working?”

“Impress? Once again, just trying to do my fucking job. And, uh, shouldn’t you be doing yours too, Bucket?”

“Let me put it another way, to see if I’m understanding this clearly. You’re saying that each time you try to scare Ryan, the meter doesn’t fill up as you think it should. But sometimes it does fill up, right? Even when he’s not screaming.”

“Yes.” This was exasperating.

Ben held out some freakin’ play-dough like a freakin’ pedophile. “I’m about to hit you with some truth, Shane, so you can hold onto this if you get jittery.”

“I’m the spawn of Satan, cursed to roam the underworld and inspire thoughts of impending doom for all eternity. I’m good.”

“Fine. The meter’s not rising up because of Ryan’s fear. It’s rising because of yours.”

“Say what?”

“Oh Shane, it’s obvious. You’re afraid of failure.”

Shane crossed his arms. “I wouldn’t be afraid of failing if you’d throw away that damn meter and let me do my job.”

“And you’re terrified of intimacy. Considering your upbringing, it makes perfect sense.”

“Yeah, so Lucifer didn’t watch me play a doorknob in my school play. Your point?”

Brandon sighed. “You’re afraid of love, Shane.”

“Love?!” Get Shane a barf bag. Quickly.

“It’s clear to me that you like this Ryan Bergara. And I get it; he sounds lovely. And you know what else? This will be hard to believe, because you have cripplingly low self-esteem, but Ryan likes you, too. You’ve made him laugh and smile so much. That’s something to be proud of.”

“...”

“It’s alright. I’ve given you a lot to process today. How about you take the rest of the day off? Steven’s totally fine with it. We understand; this is an emotionally taxing job.”

“HoW AbOuT yOu TaKe ThE rEsT oF tHe DaY oFf?” Shane mimicked. “How about this?” He stood up from his chair.

“Thanks for all your help, Doctor. Why don’t you take two of these and call me in the morning?” With two one-fingered salutes, Shane was out of there.

Britain sighed and jotted down one last note: Try therapy again when Mercury isn’t in retrograde.

Chapter Text

After the meeting, Shane takes some time to reflect. He trudges home quietly, pondering over the heart-to-heart he just had.

Once he’s back in his den, Shane pours his not-soul out into his Lisa Frank journals. After the notebooks become too tear-soaked to continue, Shane ventures out on an eat, pray, love journey to discover the true meaning of Christmas, and maybe even discovers himself along the way. Upon his return, Shane writes Brent a heartfelt letter, apologizing for the way he’s unfairly treated him in the past. He admits the hurtful nicknames were a projection of his own lack of self-confidence, and confesses he’s been envious of Brent and his vast knowledge of the zodiac. Truthfully, Shane looks up to Brent, and really does know how to spell his name.

And, while the two will probably never become friends, the demons have developed a genuine understanding of each other.

 

HAH. No.

 

Uh, yeah, Bread was wrong. Shane even checked with Steven, the expert on these matters, and also the expert on Earth, heaven, and the underworld: Google. Demons can’t generate electrical energy. Duh.

Think about it. If demons could power their dens just by watching creepypastas… they wouldn’t bother with humans. What? Did you think there was a plot hole in this story? Humans, no faith these days…

Bottom line: Brenda is an idiot. If you genuinely believed a “psychologist” with an “astrology degree”, shame on you, human. Shame on you.

And nothing else Banana preached made any sense, either. Fear of intimacy? Daddy issues? Psh.

The meter's just a piece of junk. And why did Lucifer have to outsource the IT department last month? Cheapskate. So currently, Shane's been on hold for the past three fucking hours, waiting for some idiot named Steve to offer better advice than "turn it off and on again."

Sometimes, Shane remembers that where he lives is, indeed, Hell.

Chapter Text

Shane scuttled across the scare floor. With his little legs, it was taking forever to get to Mr. Doesn’t Fear Death or God’s door. He probably should’ve chosen a bigger costume, but he's going for authenticity. And what better source material than the Google images results page for “creepy, crawlies”?

That’s right. Shane’s a black widow, baby. The convenient thing about being a demon is Shane doesn’t need to be an entomologist or anything. He just found a picture of the spookiest arachnid he could find and closed his eyes. And, boom. He’s your worst nightmare. Copious eyes and copious legs on a jet black body with a sick red decal. He also had to drag around this icky white ball on his back. Guess not all spiders store web-making-stuff internally. (Where the hell has Spiderman been keeping it?)

Spidey-Shane slipped under the narrow space below the door, mentally rehearsing his plan. Obviously, Shane’s not going to poison him. You’re rude for even thinking that. Straight up murder isn’t on the demon agenda. Much more of a human thing. Besides, Shane couldn’t even if he wanted to. I know you haven’t noticed, but Shane isn’t that graceful. Navigating on two laughably long legs was hard enough, much less eight long, spindly black appendages. Shane’s still learning to walk in this thing.

I know what you’re thinking. Just a spider? But hear Shane out. The only thing scarier than seeing a spider in your room… is no longer being able to see the spider. The demon community has gotten many laughs out of the “where the fuck did it go?!” dance, where humans shake out their sheets in a panic. And spiders are one of the top universal human fears. Just below snakes, but it’ll be a cold day in home before Shane imitates anything Boat does.


Night Fucking Whatever

It was almost 4:30am. Shane was a little late because he’d spent some time practicing his skit. Normally, Shane was more of a “cold open” kinda demon. No, he’s not trying to impress Ryan. Do yourself a favor and wipe everything Bridge said from your memory. Shane’s just trying to improve his job performance, like Steven asked.

Spidey-Shane creeped into the room. With the ability to slip quietly under the door, he had the element of surprise on his side. It was hard to get his bearings, though. With eight eyes, everything looked like those horrid Tik-Tok videos with multiple panels. He stumbled along the jungle of a carpet.

What Shane didn’t have in sight, he made up for in smell. Like a tween in puberty learning “weird and/or wonderful" things about his new body, Shane discovered the tiny hairs on his legs could detect scent. And what he smelled was wonderful.

A thick block of butter, simmering in a pan. The salty-tang of the ocean breeze, guiding the tide in and out. Shane's heard that scent is the sense most related to memory. He closed all eight eyes and suddenly Shane was a young demon, trying to calm his jitters before his final scare simulation. Ace this, and he’d graduate Demons University with flying colors and have an excellent chance at working for Inferno Power Systems. Ace this, and he’d make Dad proud.

Shane tugged on the overalls of his Chucky costume, peeking at Lucifer in the front row. On his lap was a bucket of Orville Redenbacher's. It was an inside joke between father and son. Dad told Shane he was going to do great. In fact, Dad said he was so confident in Shane’s abilities, he was going to bring popcorn to enjoy the show. Dad looked up with an encouraging smile and a thumbs-up.

It was the first and last time he’d sat through one of Shane’s performances.

Oh. That’s what it was. Popcorn.

Spidey-Shane crawled up the wooden dresser. His feet had a nice suction to them, but it was still like climbing a friggin’ mountain. And, like a hiker trekking Mount Everest, Shane was stunned by the view from the top:

Ryan Bergara, curled up on his twin bed, fast asleep. Shane had never seen him in a deep slumber before; wasn’t sure the human knew how. Ryan’s chest rose and fell, and his breath was the ocean air. His dark eyelashes fluttered as he snuggled deeper into his pillow. Shane wondered if he was dreaming. Wondered what someone like Ryan would dream about. He crawled closer to the edge. Ryan hadn’t even pulled up the covers; it was as if he’d drifted off unintentionally. Curled up in his arms like a teddy bear, was a round, red bowl of popcorn. And not the ‘I can’t believe it’s not butter’ kind. A green post-it note hung off the side. Shane had to squint a little to see, but something was definitely scrawled there, in thick sharpie:


For my friend:)


Shane didn’t have feelings about this, because spiders don’t have feelings.

All he was thinking about was his original plan to crawl over Bergara’s face until he awoke with a shriek. But the human looked like he needed his sleep. He was always up so late; it couldn’t be good for him. And Ryan was always so animated and engaged and bubbly, it was nice to see him allowing himself to relax.

But that’s not why Shane resisted the popcorn, no matter how glorious it smelled. That’s not why Shane closed his eyes, and adjusted the thermostat a little higher so Ryan wouldn’t be cold without a blanket.

That’s not why Shane took extra care to be quiet while he scuttled down the dresser, across the carpet, and under the door. That’s not why Shane accepted his 0% with a resigned sigh. And that’s not why Shane took Ryan’s name off the list of assignments for tonight, so no one else would bother him.

Shane just didn’t want to get squished.

He didn’t want to end up being accidentally squashed by Ryan Bergara as he rolled over.

Because if you get too close to people, they crush you, and it hurts.


Oh, and the other reason Shane scuttled out of there so fast was that it turns out the white ball he was carrying was actually an egg sac, and the Google image he selected was actually a pregnant spider, and Shane had to get out of there because he was beginning to feel several hundred baby spiders start to bust out of their maternal prison, and he had to go prepare quickly because he wasn't ready to be a father. (Mother?)


Shane’s author’s note (because why should Erin get to hog all of them?):

If you say a single word about how any of this relates to what Beluga said, you’re banished from the rest of the story. If you like Brassiere so much, you can go read his boring blog about his boring life. Have fun reading about incense and which type of quartz you should shove up your ass to get your crush to notice you, or whatever. Bye.

Also, thanks for listening.

Chapter Text

Shane walked straight out of the building, carrying approximately 1,367 tiny spiders in a cardboard box he’d found in the back room. (He counted.) And he REFUSED to let Stephanos use his babies as props or even touch them. That monster.

Brant tried to stop him on the way, but when has Branflakes succeeded at anything?

“You’re headed out already?”

“Yup. Bye.” Bus Stop lightly stepped in front of him, blocking his way like someone with an actual spine.

“Now, Shane, we were happy to let you take yesterday off, but you don’t want to start developing bad habits. You’re running away from your problems, and you are NOT going to be accruing any more paid time off-”

“Ok, Boomer.” The two demons swerved like dodgeball players as Shane tried to make his escape (from his problems).

“Seriously? I’m two years younger than you!”

“Do you look like it, though?” Shane slipped by as Building’s jaw dropped.

Shane’s not cruel, but he’ll commit a murder if he has to.


Besides, you’re allowed to leave work if you’re feeling sick. And Shane was definitely feeling some type of way.

On one hand, he felt warm and fuzzy. Like when you just get out of the shower, and someone hands you a warm, fluffy towel straight from the dryer. Not that anyone would do that for Shane. Or that he’d want them to? He doesn’t think?

On the other hand, Shane wanted to squeeze the life out of something. Warmth was bubbling up inside him, and he wanted to crush and smash and break to get it out of his system. Where was this coming from? He supposed he wanted to squeeze the life out of Branch, but that was nothing new.

The closest thing Shane could compare it to was what he experienced early on in his career. After Shane did so well in the scare simulation that he got an award (!!!), Inferno Power Systems was happy to have him.

The factory prides itself on its individualistic approach towards both scarer and scaree. Shane was pleasantly surprised when the big boss came up to him during orientation. Katie shook his hand and struck up a conversation. She was friendly and inviting, but totally threw him off when she asked who Shane would like to scare. He responded that he had no preference, because he honestly didn’t.

It only took a few weeks for Shane to learn he did have preferences. Or actually, one preference: not children. The first few times Steven assigned him to scare a kid, he stood stiffly in the corner of their rooms, asking himself why he couldn’t do it. (If your sleep paralysis demon is just standing there, she’s probably a newbie who’s nervous and forgot her lines. Encourage her, won’t you?)

Shane finally put his foot down when he was assigned to a little girl named Mary. Her worst fear: the basement. Especially at night. Especially when it’s time to turn the lights off. Especially because the only light switch is at the bottom of the stairs, and your sole option is to flip the switch and bolt. Your breath hitches you sprint up into the darkness, and you wonder when whatever's down there will finally get you. Especially when there’s one more step than you thought there was. Valid, right?

Shane’s assignment was deceptively simple: take the girl to the basement, then leave. He wouldn’t have to drag her or anything horrible like that. Kids are deep sleepers; she wouldn’t wake until after Shane carried her downstairs and laid her gently on the bottom step. He wouldn’t even have to see her reaction. He’d only have to endure the screams as he made his way back up to the closet.

Shane Madej absolutely fucking refused.

Because she was three years old. Because she was this ridiculously tiny thing in a pink nightgown with messy black pigtails. Because there was a fuzzy blue polka-dotted monster tucked in neatly besides her. Because he could tell she painted the sloppy lavender flowers on her door.

Because on Shane’s way out, she noticed him. When he turned around, desperately thinking of a way to not scare her, she popped up in bed and cheerfully yelled, “Boo!” Shane laughed, genuinely laughed, and his insides steamed up like a mug of hot chocolate.

Shane shoved her door in a wood chipper.

After Steven gave him a slap on the wrist for destroying a power source, he agreed to only assign Shane to ages 13 and up from then on.

Don’t look at Shane like that. Teenagers are brats. They deserve everything that’s coming to ‘em. That's another universal fear: walking past a crowd of teens, especially when they keep peering over at you and snickering.

Especially 13 year olds. Those tweens are the most sadistic, unfeeling creatures. They put demons to shame. To quote the great John Mulaney:

Eight graders will make fun of you, but in an accurate way. They will get to the thing that you don't like about you. They don’t even have to look at you for long. They’ll just be like, “Ha, ha, ha, ha, hey, look at that high-waisted man. He got feminine hips.” And I’m like, “No! That’s the thing I’m sensitive about!”

There's an unspoken agreement at Inferno to leave Mr. Mulaney alone. Man's been through enough.

Okay, Shane's done with the tangent now. The point is, he was feeling weird and the fact that he even could feel weird was making him feel weird. So he's quitting. Not the job, obviously. Shane's still got to support himself, and student loans originated in Hell.

Shane's quitting Ryan Bergara.

Chapter Text

"Pass."

"What about Mikkel Jørgensen from Slagelse? He's 29, suffers from road rage, wears his shirts a size too small, and thinks drinking is a personality. Oh, and he isn't racist because he has black friends. He's terrified of ending up all by himself, so you’d just need to show up and remind him he's alone again on a Friday night-"

"Not likely."

"Okay, someone else from Denmark? Here's Maja, an 18-year-old artist. Oooh, a Pisces! The file says she spoke with her deceased grandma when she was younger, uh, quite a lot to unpack there. She's incredibly nice, but also has wicked social anxiety, so just take her to a networking event. Be careful, though, she tends to grab knives when she's scared-"

"Yikes."

"Fine, want to go back to America? Fred is a 15 year old from Iowa. He loves Pokémon Go and has a creative streak. He wants to be a writer. Fred has terrific potential, but sometimes struggles with getting started. Worst fear: tornadoes."

"Yikes."

“How about this 24-year-old law student from New York? She’s pretty smart, but her worst fear is success. Because, you see, then people are going to keep expecting success and perfection from her, and when it inevitably comes crashing down, people will see her for the impostor she really is and-”

"Hate her hair."

"You're being damn picky, Shane." Katie narrowed her eyes. "You get one more. Brantley from Florida. Your average dude. He's most afraid of his SoundCloud account never blowing up, or that there'll be a meat shortage and Publix stops selling subs..."

"Let me guess, he has a great personality. Is this really the best you can do?"

"Fine." Katie snapped the thick binder shut. "I'll give them all to Brent."

Aw, come on. Shane wouldn't wish Brexit on his worst enemy.

"Hold up. I'll take them all."

Katie smiled.


Shane trudged back to his desk. That's right, his desk. Shane Alexander Madej was finally going to finish his paperwork. For some reason, he wasn't in the mood to make someone vomit from fear. He'll work on getting Roz off his back instead. There was something threatening behind those cat spectacles... Anyways, at least Shane could watch his spider cam. Working parents, ya know, they have to find ways to make it work.

Shane ripped Ryan's name off the assignment board on the way. Because if he can't not-scare Ryan, no one can.

"Hey Shane, I wanted to bring something to your attention..."

"Listen Bowser, I'm 99% sure you're the zodiac killer. Once I can definitively prove it, I'm going straight to the police."

"Uh, okay?" Bruno put his stupid hands on his stupid hips. "I only came over here because I thought you'd want to know Stephanos picked Ryan up."

Shane's not-heart stopped.

"No, no... That's impossible. I took him off the list. No one should be assigned to him."

"Yeah, but she heard he's a "no-fear." You know how she is with a challenge."

"T-That's not... she shouldn't..." Shane's mind was racing, but he forced himself to breathe. "Which door?" he asked, as calmly as he could manage.

"Eleven. She's with him right now."

"WHAT?!" No, no, no, no. "Why the fuck didn't you tell me earlier, Brownie?!" Shane leapt up from his chair. Not Ryan, not Ryan...

"I am telling you, Shane! That's literally why I came over here-"

"Thanks for nothing, Brillo Pad!" Shane shouted as he rushed to the scare floor. He hoped he wasn't too late.


Because, you know how demons aren't cruel? Stephanos was the exception. She excelled in University, but was also the demon nobody wanted to be around. She was sadistic in her methods, and overkill was her middle name. Once the meter's at 100% it can't go any higher, so why prolong it? Demons are only supposed to take what they need. And Shane knew exactly what she planned to do with Ryan.

Shane has a little confession, and it's not a big deal. Don't make it weird. So, in all his attempts, Shane never actually exposed Ryan to his worst fear. It was a little cliché, and he had so many other options, and... You know what? Shane doesn't need to explain himself. Artists don't explain art.

Door eleven was towards the far end of the scare floor. Most closets look the same, but thankfully, Shane knew the medium off-white of Ryan's door by heart. He burst in, and saw what he’d never wanted to see:

Ryan Bergara. In tears. Rocking and hyperventilating into his pillow as he shook violently. A bowl of popcorn knocked to the floor, spilling its insides over the carpet. Cracked porcelain and dim lighting.

Shane felt the static spark of fear in the air. A warning. The same as standing in a field, moments before a thunderstorm breaks. The trees are quiet, the air is still, and the hairs on your arms are alert, as if urging you to get the hell out of here, idiot!

Ryan's room was quiet.

The air was still.

There was a face at the window.

Chapter Text

Let’s take a stroll through a body farm, shall we? It’s kinda like a garden, but with corpses. No, they’re not growing anything, silly. I hope you didn’t think zombies were real. It’s a research facility. Students have to learn, don’t they? And don’t worry, they’re ethically sourced, non-GMO, gluten free and all that jazz. A demon wouldn’t go out of its way to take a life and drag whatever’s left down to Hell. Not our thing.

We play the long game. We can wait.

And… here’s our first stop! A fresh body, straight off the life train, isn’t so different from a breathing one. Well actually, skin really shouldn’t be that color. So, let’s just say it’s a little paler.

More still.

Emptier.

The rigor mortis has begun to set in, which is to be expected, but… something’s just not there. And not the obvious. Does the human soul take up space? Anyways, that’s a ‘one’ on the scale.

All aboard to stop number two!

That’s right, it’s the same body, only one day old. Hasn’t seen much yet. You’re not going to notice many signs of decomposition at this point. It almost looks as if they could still be alive, but the sickening feeling in your gut says otherwise. Students must learn to pay attention to that feeling. Remember your A,B,C,D’s: Always Be Causing Dread.

So really, it’s not the appearance that’s different so much as the smell. But I don’t have to describe that for you; you know what it’s like. I know you do. You’re in Hell, remember? We’re all sinners, so there’s nothing you have to hide here. Not that you could if you wanted to.

But the basic point here was to show you a classic example of a ‘two.’ I hope you’ve been taking notes.

And here we are at lucky stop number three! Yup, still the same body. Good observation. We call this stage “bloat”, for obvious reasons. But there’s something more. Go ahead and take a closer look. Come on, you can do it. What else do you see?

Correct! You’ve noticed the purge fluid. That’s P-U-R-G-E F-L-U-I-D for your notes. The thick, black liquid gushing from the nose and mouth looks like an exorcism, but it’s actually gastrointestinal tract decomposition getting forced out by gas pressure. And that’s what a ‘three’ looks like! Neat, huh?

What a great day. It’s so refreshing to engage with some proper science. Tested, peer-reviewed, and none of that horoscope bullshit. I’m glad you’re enjoying this, too. Knew you were a smart one.

Next stop, number four! There’s our body again! This is what we call active decay. It probably looks familiar because these are the “spooky” corpses you usually see in movies and in your backyard and such.

I’m just kidding. We know you didn’t put it in your backyard.

But I digress. Go on, take a look! You can even touch the exhibits. In fact, we encourage it. This is for your education. Here, you’ll see examples of interesting terms like “corpse wax,” “putrefaction,” and “skeletonize.” But I won’t explain them. You should be familiar with a ‘four’, already.

You really should have done the reading.

Last stop, here we go! There isn’t too much of our body left, huh? This is known as advanced decay. The easiest way to identify this stage is by looking at the colors. Ask yourself: is it discolored? Is it blackened? Is there even anything left? Will anyone remember them? What they did with their time, did it make any difference at all?

Of course it did. An average-sized corpse will release 32 grams of nitrogen, 10 grams of phosphorus, 4 grams of potassium, and even a gram of magnesium. It all nourishes the soil, and even alters its chemistry for a few years. So there, you see, human life does have some value! Human death, at least.

I suppose you could add in dry remains as the last stage, but we see it more as an extension of stage five. It’s when the remains are dried out, leaving behind a dusty skeleton. You’d be lucky to find an intact one. Certainly qualifies for extra credit.

… And that’s the end of today’s lesson! I hope you learned something. I know, I know. You all wanted to see how a body decomposes in water. But we save that for the advanced class. You’d have to get another signed permission slip, and we’re also mandating that you sign this waiver. Here, take it. Oh wait, no, you don’t have to read through all that. You don't want to waste your time with that boring legal jargon.

Seriously. Don’t bother. Just sign it.

It’s just a precaution, alright? The facility can’t afford to be sued again. Education is too important. Once again, I’ll stress that the rumors about unethical sourcing simply aren’t true.

… POP QUIZ!



 

Did you recognize her?


 

 

… Or him? I hope you did. Hell is a lonely place, and even moreso if you’ve been forgotten and left to rot in a field. Now, I understand that you didn’t know this person well. Obviously, you’d recognize your friends or family in a heartbeat. But please, try not to hurt this person’s feelings. You should really know this name by now.

It’s like that horrid feeling when someone comes up to you at a party. A stranger, or so you thought. “Hey, you!” they call out cheerfully. “How’ve you been? I didn’t expect to see you here. We have to catch up.” The face is almost familiar, the name is at the tip of your tongue, but you just can’t place it. You squirm in discomfort as you stutter out a response. “H-Hi t-there, umm…”

It’s time to choose.

Make a guess, or confess your sins. But be careful, you only get one chance. Mortified, you manage to do neither. You’re paralyzed as you watch their expression fade from pleasantly surprised and friendly, to confused and somewhat uncomfortable, to something… else.

Everyone’s had their name forgotten at some point. It’s a little awkward, but you just have to laugh it off while your stomach sinks into the floor. Guess you didn’t matter as much as you thought you did.

But this person is different. The party has gone deathly quiet in the wake of the social faux pas. And yet, they refuse to laugh it off. Their face falls, and the expression shifts to something more like disappointment. Anger. Menace...?

Time’s up, human. Stop crying and answer the fucking question.

Who, exactly, did you see?


Oh come on, relax. Shane was just having some fun! Hadn’t genuinely spooked someone in a while. And stop worrying, no one actually hurt Ryan. Like Shane would let that happen.

He’ll tell you what really happened in the next chapter.

Chapter Text

Before we get into it, Shane would like to say he understands the theatrics weren’t necessary. He just wanted to show you what demon education is like! And sure, he could’ve explained the stages of decay like a normal person… but... that’s not what he is? Anyways, he’s sorry for making you feel nervous or jealous or hungry. Whatever humans feel when confronted with their own mortality and that fact that whatever minuscule impact they manage to make on this planet will inevitably rot away.

But hopefully you paid attention.

Was the face at the window a stage one, two, three, or four?

Unfortunately, it was all of them. In rapid succession.

Stunned, Shane could only watch as the head gradually bloated to twice its size. An angry cloud of flies buzzed out of its gaping mouth, accompanied by the stench of putrification flooding the room.

Twice its size... three times its size… Almost surpassing the window pane. Translucent pale skin, stretched beyond its breaking point, began to burst like a balloon punctured with needles.

Pop! Pop! Pop!

Why couldn’t Shane move? He was transfixed. It began to shake and shrivel up, oozing thick black slime like a goth honeycomb. (Remember what that substance is called?) It was the size of your fist now. The worst kind of raisin. As if raisins aren’t the worst on their own.

Then, it burst like a popcorn kernel. Crunch!

Snap! Crackle! Pop! Sharp, white bones jutted out, tearing through skin. It reminded Shane of a parasite ripping itself out of its host’s body.

The tangled knot of bones twisted and contorted, clanking hollowly. It leisurely unfolded into a full skeleton, peering through the window. How was breath still fogging the glass?

The non-douchebag demon was glued to the floor. He’d never felt so powerless.

Shane finally snapped out of it when he heard a small whimper. Ryan. Fuck. He’d forgotten “sleep paralysis” can impact demons as well. But not strongly... it really shouldn’t have affected Shane this much. He tore his eyes away from the ghastly sight and reminded himself that this wasn’t what it seemed. There's nothing monstrous or dangerous here.

This was just a little girl with nothing better to do.

Shane addressed the skull floating in the darkness: “ALRIGHT, CUT IT WITH THE BULLSHIT, STEPHANOS!”

Ryan flinched. Probably hadn’t noticed Shane enter, considering his head was still tucked between his knees. Sorry, human. Stephanos, on the other hand, somehow managed to roll her eyes without eyes. Don’t ask Shane how she did it.

“Really, Shane?! You ruined my scene!”

“Get the fuck out. Now. I swear to God, Stephanos, you don’t wanna see what I’ll-”

Poof! The skull vanished. A young demon with waist-length black hair appeared in front of him. She put her hands on her hips.

“I don’t see why you had to-” Whatever look she saw on Shane’s face, it was enough. She was out the door with a slam!

At least Stephanos was gone. But that’s not what Shane was really worried about.

It was Ryan’s fear.


In their final year at Demons University, students learn about electrical systems. A positive feedback loop, also known as an exacerbating feedback loop, is a closed system where “A” produces “B”, which in turns produces more of “A.” It’s pretty rare in practice, but when it does happen…

It’s like when you’re arguing with a friend over lunch plans, tossing a coin over and over. Heads, heads, tails, heads, tails, tails… And then… edge? You had tossed a glinting penny in the air, and it ended up precariously perched on its side. Huh, that’s kinda cool.

Now, try and do that again.

With the right combination of luck and skill, demons can do just that. They can manage to make a human afraid of his own fear, trapping him in a nightmare of his own creation. Scarers usually head out at that point. Their work is done. The humans can pick up the pieces.

As for what it’s like for the human? It’s like when you hear something you didn’t want to hear. You really didn’t. Your stomach lurches uncomfortably as you try to control your expression. Oh no, are you going to be sick?! You start to panic. This can’t be happening, not here, not now… Your dread zaps your insides like a stun gun, inducing more nausea. And, before you know it, you’re having a panic attack because you’re having a panic attack.

Renewable energy isn’t always a good thing.

Ryan cowered in bed as the apartment complex shook. (Yeah, sure, its tectonic plates that cause earthquakes. Silly humans.)

Objects launched themselves through the air as the room strobed like a nightclub. BANG! A textbook flung itself at the wall, not far from Ryan’s head. The human yelped and sparks crackled up from the floor. You know that thing where you rub your hand on a carpet to build up static, and then you go and shock your friend like an asshole? That’s the remnants of your fear from last night.

Shane tried to take a step forward, but Ryan saw him and screamed. He had to jump back when something much like lightning struck the dresser beside him, sending it crashing to the ground.

Fuck, this could actually cause a fire.

Oh, no. Shane was going to have to do what he’s never done before.

He was going to have to calm a human down. He’s going to have to comfort it.

Chapter Text

Shane squeezed his eyes shut and tried to channel someone else. Seriously. Anyone. (No, channeling spirits isn't actually a thing. You can’t channel something that’s not real.)

Then, in a stroke of genius, it came to him. WWBRD: What would Bob Ross do? Shane frantically tried to remember what he’d said on the latest episode as the window pane jerked open, sending wind howling through the room. Help me, Bob! What would a nice person do? And then, as mighty as the voice of God, the heavens parted to shine a ray of wisdom down upon him:

"Well, hello there! I'm so happy you're joining me today. How about together we build a happy little cloud and some happy little trees? There’s nothing wrong with having a tree as a friend.”

Well, thanks. Guess Shane was on his own.

“Ryan! Can you hear me?” Ryan was backed up as far to the wall as possible.

“H-How do you k-know my name?”

“It’s okay. It’s me! It’s Shane!”

“S-Shane?” Whoops. They’d never had official introductions.

“Uhh, let’s see… I’m a demon, a demon stereotype, a gym teacher, bigfoot, mothman…” Shane counted on his fingers. Ryan lifted his head and really looked at him for the first time.

“Wait… you’re my friend? The one who’s been c-coming h-here?”

“Yes,” Shane replied urgently. “Yes, Ryan. I’m your friend.” Whatever that actually means?

“It’s r-really y-you? With the comedy routines?”

“Yes.” Shane took a cautious step forward, gracefully ignoring that bitchslap to the face. “It’s really me. And everything's okay now. I promise.”

“B-But that f-face-

“Just a nightmare, Ryan. That’s all it was. Just a dream. And she’s never coming back. I’ll make sure of it.” Shane was almost at Ryan’s bed. Guess you comfort a human like a predator sneaks up on its prey? Shane hovered over him, not unlike a drone with social anxiety. Should he like, sit next to him, or… “Um, can I-”

Ryan flung himself into his arms.

The fuck?

Several things happened at once. Ryan’s burst of affection was quite aggressive, forcing Shane to grab him back to avoid getting knocked over. The lights flicked on. Various objects hit the ground with a thud. Guess it was over. Thanks, Bob.

The human hadn’t moved.

Was Shane supposed to keep his arms like this?

"It's over?" Ryan asked Shane's neck. "It's really over?"

“Yeah, buddy. It's over." Shane shouldn’t move at all, right? He didn't really want to, anyways.

Ryan didn’t seem to mind embracing a telephone pole for a good, long minute. Umm…

Finally, the human pulled back and smiled.

“You’re the best.

“I’m… what?”

“I mean it, man! I’ve been staying up to try to tell you. You've made everything so much easier, thank you.”

Shane rubbed his neck. “Oh, um, that’s cool.”

Ryan looked confused. “Wait, were you not trying? Was that not why you've been coming here?"

"Um..." This was more uncomfortable than dissecting a human to get his University Wide Minor in Gore. (Not a real human, Jesus.)

“... That's okay. Um, what are you, then? Sorry if that’s rude to ask.”

Shane is 500 levels of uncomfortable is what he is. But the hellhound's already out of the bag.

“I’m, um, just a resident. Of the underworld.” (Too much stigma associated with “demon”.)

Ryan actually didn’t look too disturbed. “So, you’re not…”

“I’m not what?” Huh?

“No, I just…” Ryan blushed sheepishly, “I asked God for something else.”

“Oh,” Shane said lightly. Well, he could shapeshift into basically anything…

“No, no!” Ryan grabbed his arm. The human was touching him. Why was the human touching him?

“This is great, too. I’m sorry, let me explain. Uh, do you want to get more comfortable first?”

Shane may or may not have been crouched stiffly at the edge of the bed like a gargoyle with the social skills of a gargoyle.

“Oh, yeah, uh sure.” Imitating the human was probably the best move, so Shane sat cross-legged on the bed, facing Ryan.

“I don’t know how much you know about me, but I just moved to LA two months ago. I grew up over in Maine. I studied movie production and LA is the place to be for that. It wasn’t what I expected, though. It’s been really lonely. People here aren’t that nice, or welcoming. It's like they already have their own city-wide cliques.”

Finally, something Shane could relate to.

“That makes sense. Down under, we have a whole circle exclusively for residents of LA,” he offered.

... Why was the human making that face?

“Oh, uh, that’s c-cool. Um, anyways, the only job I could get is filming commercials for freaking colonoscopy supplies. It’s even worse than it sounds.” Ryan shuddered. “So, yeah, I thought I made a huge mistake moving out here. And it was even worse because I had no one to talk to. I was really about to give up and go back home. But then, you showed up! And I realized how long it'd been since I’d actually laughed and just let myself be a person. You’ve helped so much, you don’t even know.”

“Um, circling back to when I showed up… Can we explore that a little?” Oh God, Shane was so nervous that he was talking like Barcelona. Don’t tell Bacon any of this. Please.

Ryan didn’t seem to mind. “Oh, you mean when you spelled my name wrong on the Ouija board?” He giggled. “Classic, man. I don’t know how you come up with this shit.” Hmph.

“No, I mean how did you know I was real?”

“Oh, gotcha. Well, I thought you were just in my head at first. I tend to have crazy dreams, but I know those aren't real.” Mr. Ross wouldn’t burst Ryan’s bubble, so Shane won’t either. “But then after you did that hilarious skit with the flag, it was still ripped the next morning.”

Crap. So much for not leaving evidence.

“No, no it’s okay! I don’t care about the flag; it was so worth it.”

"Oh, that's good..." Let’s be honest here. This chapter is just a cry for help.

"Can I..." Ryan looked down at his socks, even though there wasn’t anything wrong with them. "Is there anything I can do for you?"

"Uh, what?" Shane asked intelligently.

"You've helped me so much, I'd love to return the favor..."

"Um..." Well, he could really use some crickets for his spiders. They're growing up so fast, and it’s been tough keeping up with their appetites. Shane's heard good things about Pet Supplies Plus.

"It's okay." Ryan smiled. "You take your time and think of something. When you do, I'll be here."

"Um, thanks." Shane was fidgeting furiously, but Ryan seemed at ease. So unlike a few minutes ago. "Well, actually, there is something."

"Yeah? I'll do anything, really. You deserve it."

"Can you just, uh, not tell anyone about me or any of this? Don't want to get in trouble with the boss."

Ryan's brow furrowed, but he didn't pry. "Sure, man. I can do that. I did already tell my friend Ricky, but he's harmless. I'm pretty sure he doesn't believe me anyways."

"That's fine." What, did you think Shane was going to drag the two humans to Hell and bleach their brains? These assumptions really need to stop. "Um, I'm gonna go..."

"Wait!” Ryan grabbed his arm again. Some of the panic in his eyes had returned. "Can you, um, stay a little longer? I'll make you popcorn."

Of course Shane fucking stayed. Get off his back.


Shane awkwardly sat on the bed while Ryan went to the kitchen. He thought about picking up the mess, but didn't think humans liked others touching their stuff. Ryan came in with an armful of snacks, chewing on something long, red, and ridiculous, apparently known as a Twizzler.

"So..." Ryan plopped down on the bed. "It's pretty cool that you're a shapeshifting demon."

"Technically, we're all shapeshifters." Fuck, this popcorn was good.

"Could you shapeshift for me? Um, please?"

“Uh, well it’s kinda against our work policy. Once we choose something, we’re supposed to commit for the whole session.”

Ryan didn’t seem to hear. He played with his Twizzler as he spoke: “I used to have this puppy. A cocker spaniel named Stella. She was the sweetest, but I had to give her up when I moved. My cousin has her now, and I know she’s in good hands, but I miss her so much. She was my best friend and-"

Ryan looked up to see a cocker spaniel curled up on his bed. Because of course Shane's going to turn into a fucking puppy dog for a pair of fucking puppy dog eyes, as if he'd had a Goddamn choice.

“STELLA!” Shane flinched. Dog hearing really is sensitive.

“Oh, uh. Sorry, girl. Boy.”

The cocker spaniel tilted its head.

“Can I…?” Ryan held his hand out. Puppy-Shane leaned into it. He lightly scratched his imitation-pet’s head for a moment. Oh wow, that does feel good. Shane’s tail wagged involuntarily.

“Thanks.” Poof! A lanky demon reappeared.

“Do you, uh, want anything else?”

“No, no, that was great, thanks. But I like you like this.” Ryan smiled warmly.

???????

"Thanks, I really have to go now. Erm, staff meeting." Shane took one last handful of edible gold for his way out.

"Oh, okay, yeah that's cool! Have a good time at your meeting. I'll be here when you get back." Ryan smiled again. Why does he keep smiling like that?

"Um, alright."


Shane walked out in a daze, gently closing the door behind him.

He was silent for a long time.

And then Shane Madej wrenched Ryan’s door off its hinges and started dragging it towards the woodchipper.

Chapter Text

"Uh, hey Shane..." Brant rocked on his heels like a young ballerina butchering her first performance. "Whatcha doing over there?"

Scraaaaaape...

“Just aligning my chakras. My third eye needs glasses," Shane called over his shoulder.

Scraaaaaape...

"Uh, looks to me like you're dragging a door."

Scraaaaaape...

Shane paused mid-step.

"Wow Banjo, I think that's the smartest thing you've ever said. Good job!"

Scraaaaaape...

"Did you get approval for this?" Bruise trailed behind him. Shane ignored him. "You know we're only supposed to shred no-fears."

"Yup. That's it. He's a no-fear.”

Scraaaaaape...

"He? Is this Ryan's door?!" Shane let the door hit the ground with a thud!

“Alright, Britches. Let’s talk about the elephant doing the Charleston in the room. We both know you committed 37 murders in the Bay Area between 1963 and 1971. Should’ve picked a name less obvious than 'Zodiac Killer.' So, how about you get out of here before I have to send the police an anonymous report?”

"Uh, it's not anonymous if you just told me. Also, you're deflecting."

"You sure you're not deflecting about your whereabouts on the night of June 4, 1963? You have yet to provide a solid alibi."

Brush crossed his arms. "Fine. Sure. Yup, I'm the Zodiac Killer. And you know what you are? A frightened little demon who heelies away from his problems."

"Just... leave me alone." Shane started unwinding the power cord. "Is there an outlet around here?"

"You're making a big mistake."

Shane sighed. "If you're not going to leave, then at least be useful and tell me how to turn this thing on." He jabbed at random buttons. Stupid machine. "It's plugged in. What, do you need a key or something?"

Jingle-jingle! Shane looked up to see Brioche holding his salvation.

"Give me that."

"I don't think so." Shane clenched his fists and loomed over Bar Mitzvah.

"You want to go in the wood chipper? Because you can go in the wood chipper."

"Ah, ah, ah..." His irritating co-worker pointed to the camera on the far wall. Shane rolled his eyes. "Like you'd ever hurt anyone, anyways. We all know you're a big softie."

Huh. Apparently demons can get migraines. Or maybe Shane was just confusing it with the migraine in front of him.

"I'm not fucking playing around anymore. Just please give me it, Brent." Baggage raised his eyebrows.

"Okay, wow. Manners. That's what I like to see. But I'm gonna need a little more than that if you want this key."

"If you think I'm giving up a single one of my babies-"

"Shane, literally no one wants your spider-children. What do you think I am, Rumpelstiltskin?"

"Yes," Shane said frankly.

"Uh, putting that aside for now. No, Shane. I want vulnerability."

Once Shane finished dry-heaving, he was able to respond:

"Fine, Brent. Here it is: I just think Ryan Bergara's a nice guy. He's a good person, and he doesn't deserve to be tormented like this every night. Actually, I'm starting to wonder if anyone-" He paused and shook his head. "I don't want to see him get hurt, okay? I'm doing this for him. Now can you hand over the freaking key?" He held his hand out.

"So you think this has nothing to do with you?"

"Nope. Just looking out for someone else. You're shocked; I know."

Bagel looked at him for a long time.

"Alright." He handed it over.

"Really, just like that?" Shane stuck the key in the ignition. The machine revved up like a fork in a blender. "Cool. You can leave now." With some effort, he heaved up Ryan's door.

"Yup. Because you know what? I'm done helping you. You're kind of a jerk, Shane."

"Noted." The blades began to spin.

"Yup, I'm not taking it anymore. So go ahead and shred the one human you couldn't scare. You can give up and I can keep enjoying my winning streak. You haven't caught up to me in like, what, two weeks now? It's been bliss. Congrats on letting one tiny human torpedo your career."

"UGH!" Shane dropped the door. He reared back and kicked the wood chipper. (Ouch.) "Listen, Dad Bod! You couldn't scare a five-year-old who just watched Jaws for the first time! I'll show you." He shut the machine off, grumbling as he dragged Ryan's door back to its hinge.


So yeah, the only reason Shane didn't shred the door was to kick Butter's ass. And maybe he was a little curious about this "friendship" thing. For science.

Shane took a deep breath and tugged on his navy button-down. The one nice shirt he owned. He wasn't going to let this human scare him. Or Bongo. Or anyone! He was a direct descendant of Lucifer, for Hell's sake! (He'd tried to talk to Dad about this, but he's been busy. It's okay. He had to return Shane's messages eventually, right? He hoped Dad hadn't lost his number again.)

Shane braced himself and opened the door.

Only to see another man in Ryan's bed.

Chapter Text

Shane stood frozen at the doorway.

There was a human... wearing a BASEBALL CAP in Ryan's bed.

WHO THE FUCK SLEEPS IN A BASEBALL CAP?!

Who the hell is this guy? Look at him, in his stupid Maine Mariners jersey, with gross drool hanging out of his gross mouth. He was sprawled out so much that he was taking up 90% of the bed, leaving poor Ryan squished against the wall. Unbelievable. It was a twin bed, not even fit for two humans in the first place. And people call demons inconsiderate.

Speaking of inconsiderate, there was a half unpacked suitcase in the corner, with sneakers, gym shorts, and other unidentifiable items strewn in a various piles around it. And speaking of unidentifiable, a small clear bottle was sticking out from one of the pockets. Shane crept closer. The two men remained fast asleep. Guess Shane can be thankful for Mr. Manner's incessant snoring.

Demon sight is a little better than a human's, so Shane could read the label in the dark. And he didn't like what he saw:

Style Sexy Hair Hard Up Gel

What in the ...? Shane didn't know what those words meant together, but he knew enough to figure this out. Hard? Up? Sexy? Shane didn't need to channel Nicolas Cage to solve this mystery. It was lubricant. Which means... the human has been lubricating Ryan?!

That. Was. It.

Time for a good, old-fashioned scare.


There aren't many things scarier than waking up in the dead of night to see someone standing over your bed.

Except, of course, if that someone is your doppelgänger.

With maybe a few minor details off, because no artist is perfect. Shane had to guess the intruder's eye color, and probably didn't get the hair right because most of it was smushed under the dumb cap. But he had the basics. Oh, and the head wasn't quite right. Because the doppelgänger was holding the severed cranium in its hands.

Drip, drip, drip...

Shane let blood splatter on Mr. Manner's forehead with a perverted sense of glee. His victim twitched in his sleep, sluggishly reaching up to wipe off his forehead.

"Hey Ry, I think there's a leak in your ceiling..." He pulled the covers up and turned over. Ry?! So now Mr. Manner's had nicknames for the human? Unacceptable.

Shane let the head plop onto Mr. Manner's chest with a sickening squelch!

"Dude..." He was starting to wake up more now. "Why'd you drop a basketball on me..."

Truly an idiot. Guess subtle, creeping horror doesn't work on this one. The head swiveled to confront its clone:

"WAKE UP!"

"AHHH!" Mr. Manners was up with a jolt. Ryan rolled over and yawned, rubbing his eyes.

"GET OUT!"

"FUCK! RYAN! GET UP!" Mr. Manners tossed Shane (like a basketball), and was out the door in a mad dash, half-tripping over a guitar laying across the floor in the process. All before Ryan was even fully awake.

Nice job choosing a mate who can protect you.

Now it was just Shane and Ryan. Well, a dismembered cranium, Ryan, and a headless body looming rigidly above them. Crap, Shane didn't mean to scare him, too...

Ryan groggily rolled over and took in the bloody scene.

"Hey, Shane."

Oh right, this one is incapable of fear.

"Um, hello." Ryan reached over the leaking, gushing head for his phone. (Don't worry, any evidence of a scare disappears once the session is over. Unless you're an idiot like Shane who forgot he destroyed a flag.) Ryan unlocked the phone, squinting at the bright screen.

"Fuck, man, it's 3:30am. Can't we just go back to sleep?" He shoved his face into his pillow.

Because of course, of course Ryan Bergara wouldn't mind nap time with a severed head. Shane wouldn't mind all that much either, honestly. Except...

"So... who was that?" Ryan grumbled and sat up.

"Guess not. Ugh." He reached over again and flicked the lamp on. "That was my friend Ricky, from Maine. The one who knows about you. Well, he didn't believe me actually. He's visiting for the weekend because I've been homesick." Ryan began dialing. "I wanted to introduce you two."

Oh. Shane knows humans socialize in groups, so it probably helps if your friends like your other friends. Whoopsie-daisies.

Also, Shane had been fake-Ricky for an awkwardly long time. He poofed back to his normal self. Ryan smiled at him while the phone rang.

"That's better." ... Did it just get warmer in here?

"Hey, Ricky." Shane chuckled at the hysterical babbling on the other end. "No dude, I told you, that's Shane. Yes, he's real. Once again, I literally told you... No, that wasn't actually you. He shapeshifts, remember? Why are you freaking out, man? It's fine."

Ryan's consoling was ineffective. At least Shane's not the only one who struggles with that.

"Dude, everything's fine. He's not going to hurt me, or you, or anybody. Judgmental, much?"

The human was... defending him? Backing him up? This might be the first time Shane hasn't had to say demons aren't cruel. That's new.

"Alright, fine. The hotel down the street is pretty cheap. You really don't want to come back in to get your stuff? Scaredy cat... Yeah, we'll stick with the original plan. I'll pick you up for the walk of fame in the morning. Try to be done with the existential crisis by then, yeah? You're not bringing that to Disneyland. Yeah, yeah. Just take a Xanex, dude. Goodnight." Ryan hung up the phone.

"Alright, he's not coming back tonight."

"Okay, sorry for scaring off your... friend." Ryan gave him a strange look.

"Yeah, he's my friend. And nah, don't worry about it; that was hilarious. He's a chill dude; he'll get over it."

"Alright, that's cool, I guess. I'm just gonna go now..."

"Wait." Ryan grabbed his hand. It felt... nice? "I was hoping we could maybe hang out? Um, if you wanted to?"

"Uh, okay." Shane hadn't played a vampire bat in a while. "What are we hanging from?"

Chapter Text

Apparently “hanging-out” means awkwardly sitting on a bed, trying to conjure up conversation.

“So… you’re a demon?”

“Uh, guilty. And you’re a producer?”

“Yeah. Well, I guess I’d say more of an aspiring producer.”

“That’s cool.” Shane was feeling a little ridiculous in the cheetah-print snuggie Ryan insisted he wear because the room was drafty. (Ryan had the matching zebra-print.) Warm and fuzzy, but ridiculous.

“Thanks. The demon thing is cool, too.”

“Um, thanks.” Ryan thinks he’s cool?

“... Can I ask you something?” Ugh. No, he couldn’t have Dad’s autograph. Shane’s sick of being asked.

“Go ahead.”

Ryan rubbed his neck hesitantly. “I’m not really sure where to start. So, Hell is real? And demons? Are the, um, stereotypes true?”

At least the human was making an effort to be polite.

“More or less. We’re not as bad as you guys think. We just do the job no one else wants to do. I’d consider us ‘essential workers.’” The human’s eyes widened.

“Torturing souls is essential?”

“Jesus, no!” Shane’s brow furrowed. “Don’t you know what we do? We recycle.” What have the holy books been saying?

“You don’t mean like, cardboard and stuff, right?”

“Oh okay, you really don’t know?” Guess Shane was starting with the basics. “Well, it’s the same idea. First off, ghosts aren’t real-”

“But are you SURE?”

“Uh, yeah? I’ve been around a lot longer than you have, and I’ve never seen one.”

“There’s a lot of things you can’t see that are real,” Ryan retorted.

“What can’t I see?” Shane challenged. Ryan tapped his chin.

“... Gravity! You can’t see gravity. That’s real.”

Shane chuckled. “I can drop an apple.”

“Fuck,” Ryan cursed. Shane laughed again. He hadn’t laughed so much in a long time, actually.

“Anyways, ghosts aren’t real because that’s not what happens when humans die. There’s three possibilities: one, they go to Heaven if they were a good person, learned all they needed to, fulfilled their purpose, were self-actualized, yaddah yaddah. Two, medium people return to the medium place: Earth. Via reincarnation. Three, if they were a bad person, they come down to Hell to be recycled.”

“Holy shit.” Whatever Ryan was picturing, it couldn’t be pleasant.

“No, we’re not doing anything evil,” Shane defended. “It’s education. The soul needs to learn what they did wrong, why it’s wrong, and truly understand the harm they inflicted. For example, someone who was entitled and greedy on Earth would be a beggar in Hell, at least until they “get it.” And then they can start over on Earth. They forget their past lives and the trauma of Hell, because that's not the point. But the soul retains the lesson. So it's not really torture. More like mandatory driving school after you get a couple speeding tickets.”

Ryan laughed. “I can see how people confuse that with torture.” Then he noticed Shane’s expression. “No, no I understand,” he reassured. “It sounds like we… need you guys.”

“From what I’ve seen on the news, you definitely do,” Shane agreed.

“But yeah, no one gets a permanent sentence down there because that’s not the point. No one’s unworthy of redemption, or forgiveness.” Ryan frowned.

“Hitler?” Ah, yes. That douche-canoe. A special place in Hell wasn’t just an expression with that one.

“He’s probably the closest to a permanent sentence, but still no. It’s a long road for his soul to get anywhere near reincarnation, but the first step is to truly understand what he’s done. So, since April 30, 1945, he’s been reincarnating as every single person he put through the Holocaust. The average life-span of an internment camp prisoner was pretty short, but he’s still only gotten through three or four. He has a long way to go.”

“Huh,” Ryan replied. “That seems fair. Does this mean the Bible is right about demons being fallen angels?”

“Not so much ‘fallen’ as ‘demoted’. Angels who slack on the job or break the rules are sent down there, kind of like probation. And certain angels prefer that kind of work, so they self-select.” (See: Stephanos.) “Demons, guardian angels, archangels… more like job titles than what we actually are. It’s fluid.”

“I guess it does sound like a corporate hierarchy.”

“Yeah, you could say that. We’re all part of the same system, so the whole eternal battle of Heaven vs. Hell was never a thing.”

“Uh, you wanna tell organized religions that?” Shane grimaced.

“Wish I could. The thing is, God wants humanity to figure this all out themselves. You guys are doing a terrible job of that, though. Just terrible. You understand humans wrote those books, right?”

Ryan laughed bitterly. “That’s what I’ve been trying to tell people. There’s other reasons why I’m not a church guy. Only the victors get to write history…”

And with that, Shane just couldn’t help himself. “Can I tell you a secret?”

Ryan shifted closer. “Yeah. Anything.”

Shane sighed. “I’m not sure if God exists.”

Ryan took a minute to process. “Me neither. It’s funny, I thought as a demon you’d know…”

“That would be nice,” Shane mused. “Lucifer says is God is real, but he doesn’t interact. Doesn’t get involved. It’s all on us. Atheists almost have it right. Because when they look at the world and see no evidence of God, they’re basically right. I guess he made all of us and then just “noped” outta this universe. Maybe we weren’t good enough, and he’s trying again somewhere else.”

Ryan’s smile didn’t reach his eyes. “Huh. The ultimate father.”

Oh. Shane was quiet for a moment; he’d never thought of it that way. Ryan filled the silence:

“What did Steve Buscemi say in Spy Kids? Something like, ‘Do you think God stays in Heaven because he, too, lives in fear of what he created?’”

Shane gave Ryan a serious look. “I have to tell you something, but you'll have to take this one to the grave. The human world can’t know, or the system might fall apart as we know it.”

“Okay?” Shane sat back.

“I’m not sure if I should tell you.” He crossed his arms. “Actually, I know I shouldn’t.”

“Come on, you can’t leave me hanging like that!” Ryan pleaded. “I won’t tell anyone; I promise.”

Shane sighed. “Alright, but you’ll have to come in close. Can’t risk the demons overhearing me.”

Ryan leaned in. Shane whispered a secret in his ear:

“Steve Buscemi… is God.”

Ryan cackled.

“HAHAHA- FUCK YOU, MAN! I thought you were serious!” Shane joined in. The two laughed until it hurt. A voice in the back of Shane's mind warned him that it's going to hurt for a while. It's still going to hurt after Shane leaves tonight. It might even hurt for much longer that. Shane pushed those thoughts away for now.

Comfortable silence followed.

“... But anyways, I don’t really fit in any of those categories,” Shane eventually admitted.

“Why not?” Ryan asked curiously. “Are you something different?”

“Um, well, I’m Lucifer’s son.” Shane felt his face getting hot. “But I’m not that bad.”

“Never said you were,” Ryan said understandingly.

Shane wasn’t sure how to respond to that.

“Um, thanks… The reason I don’t fit in is because my father wasn’t supposed to…” Shane sighed. “Dad, shockingly, isn’t the best role model. He had an affair with one of the souls he was supposed to be educating, because of course he did. And then she had me. I, um…”

Ryan waited patiently. So patiently. And somehow, miraculously, Shane managed to say what he’d never said out loud before:

“I wasn’t supposed to exist, actually. So I don’t really belong anywhere.”

“Shane…” Nope. Ryan sounded way too kind, and sympathetic, and understanding, and he needed to stop. Shane steamrolled past that topic.

“My mother’s sentence was complete by the time she gave birth to me, so she reincarnated afterwards. First as Helen Andrews in the UK, then as Hayato Lim in Japan. I lost track of her after that.”

“That’s terrible.”

“Not really,” Shane clarified. “She, or he, doesn’t remember me, anyways. There’s no one to miss.” Ryan looked confused.

“No, Shane, that’s terrible for you. No one deserves that.”

“Deserves?” That’s a strange word. “I don’t know what you mean; that’s what happened.”

“But it shouldn’t have,” Ryan insisted. “You didn’t ask for any of this; you deserve a family. A real family; one that would never abandon you.” Shane wasn’t sure he knew what that was, but he’d rather make out with Bronchitis than continue this part of the conversation.

“Um, I still haven’t explained how the demon world works. So the ‘lessons’ usually involve making souls understand how they made others feel while on Earth, and those negative emotions have to come from somewhere. We gather your fear as fuel for the education. That's why we try to keep this all a secret. You wouldn't be scared if you knew it was just demons.” Ryan gawked at him.

“You’re saying nightmares and night terrors AREN’T necessary? They're not just a fact of life?”

“No, they are necessary,” Shane rebutted, “so we can keep Hell running.” Ryan looked like he was going to be sick.

“You’re trying to teach people not to inflict harm, but you’re inflicting harm on us to do that?! That’s as hypocritical as the death penalty," Ryan argued. "Killing people to send the message that killing people is wrong. You’re scaring us out of our minds every night!”

“But did you die?” Shane deadpanned. Ryan’s jaw dropped. Shane continued: “It’s just like Hell. You forget, because that’s not the point. We just need the fuel.”

“But we don’t always forget!” Ryan protested.

“Okay, but even if you don’t, it wasn’t real. What’s the harm?”

“Y-you-,” Ryan sputtered, “You literally just told me it’s real!”

“Yeah, but you’re the only one who knows that,” Shane responded. “And it’s not real. You were never in any danger. It’s more like… a play.” That’s certainly what Dad had drilled into his brain all these years.

Ryan looked upset.

“So, our feelings don’t matter?” he asked quietly.

... What kind of answer was the human looking for?

“‘Course they do,” Shane replied, “We need them for fuel. But not in the way I think you’re asking about.”

Ryan huffed. “I disagree.”

“Okay.” What else could Shane say?

The silence was less comfortable now.

“Umm, I can go…” Ryan raised his eyebrows.

“Do you want to?”

“No, but I think you want me to. I’m sorry, I wasn’t really ever meant to be anybody’s friend…”

Damn, what’s with the harsh truths coming out tonight? This human was bringing out a side of Shane that Bront's "therapy" never could. Speaking of, Briar Patch should get fired.

Ryan actually looked pissed, for maybe the first time.

“What the hell? That’s what you got out of this?”

“I’m sorry,” Shane repeated. Time to nope out of here. “It’s not your fault. I barely fit in the demon world, so I probably shouldn’t “hang out” with humans, either…”

Shane,” Ryan admonished. “Come here. Please.”

And Shane did, because apparently he does whatever Ryan asks.

“Alright, now look at me.” Shane braced himself. “The first thing you should know about friends… is they fight. All the time. Any two people who become friends will disagree and annoy the crap out of each other at some points. It’s inevitable.”

“So why do they do it?” Ryan looked at Shane like he was a dumbass, which was fair.

“Because they love each other.” Ah yes, there’s that familiar nausea.

“Why would two people who disagree all the time be friends? Wouldn’t that be infuriating?”

“Because differences are what keeps it fun. And they’re how you learn from each other. Like Hiccup and Toothless.”

“Like who and what now?”

Ryan laughed. “How to Train Your Dragon? No?”

Shane looked around in confusion. “What dragon? I made sure no other demons would be assigned to you.” Oh, someone would certainly be getting a talk later.

Ryan got up and scanned his shelf before pulling out a colorful picture book.

“... Here we go! Time for a bedtime story. Yeah, yeah, I know I’m 28. But this is pure nostalgia.”

“Nostalgia?” Ryan gazed at him with sympathy.

“Luc-, uh, your dad never read you anything before you went to bed?”

“Um, Dante’s Inferno a couple times. And scare manuals.” Shane couldn’t quite decipher Ryan’s expression.

“Guess it’s time for your first bedtime story, then. Here, get in.” He lifted the covers and scooched over.

So the human wanted him to…

“It’s okay, Shane,” Ryan assured him gently, “It really is.”

Alright, then. Best Buy never gets to call Shane a scaredy cat again.


“... So, you see! Toothless learned how to draw from watching Hiccup move the stick in the sand!”

“Hmm, that’s cool. When is Toothless going to eat him?”

Ryan closed the book. “What?! Weren’t you listening?”

“Of course I was. He’s a dragon and he’s a human, thought it was obvious?”

Ryan shut his eyes and took a breath. “That’s the thing. It’s not obvious. They had to figure out together that they could be friends. Dragons didn’t have to destroy the town, and humans didn’t have to kill dragons.”

Shane was quiet for a moment. “You're saying burning down the village is… bad?”

Ryan facepalmed. “Good thing I have lots of storybooks. You’re coming back tomorrow night.”

And Shane was happy to. He was looking forward to the final dragon/human showdown. (He's still rooting for the dragons, even if Ryan said that was wrong.)


Scare Meter: 92%

Guess Shane gave Ricky a good scare. That wimp.

Chapter Text

If you haven’t read Aladdin, don’t bother. Shane can sum up the whole thing right now:

There’s this princess who wants you to feel bad for her because she’s a princess. What she really wants is to be like you suburban peasants with your car payments, Ikea furnishings, and the freedom of choice to cry into either your cereal or ramen for dinner. Now, that’s the life.

Oh, and then there’s this total “nice guy”, who spends the first half of the book committing crimes and the second half lying to everybody. Shane can’t remember whether his real name is Aladdin or Ali or Abooboo, so he’s gonna call him Nice Guy™. Suits him better, don't you think?

One of the few redeeming characters is Genie, who has these awesome supernatural powers and is basically glitter personified. He’d kill it at a drag show. (Yes, drag queens really are superhuman. If you’ve been to a show, you already know that.)

Anyways, the plot is that Nice Guy bosses around Genie to quite literally grant his every wish until he’s a rich prince who's betrothed to a princess. Amazing that Nice Guy gets all the credit when Genie did all the work. You think a straight would know how to dress a fake prince convincingly? Shane thinks not.


Ryan shut the book.

“Alright, Shane,” he huffed, “I get it. You hate the story. We can read another one.”

“Wait, I didn’t say I wanted to stop! I need to know what happened to that sassy sparrow.”

“Parrot. He’s a parrot. And you think he’s the most important character?!”

Shane is, admittedly, pretty dumb. In fact, he self-identifies as a fool. But he’s not that dumb. It's just fun to irritate his human. Uh, this human.

“Maybe not the most important, but certainly one of the best.”

“What? Iago has like, five actual lines in the entire book, and he’s usually just repeating what others say!” Shane doesn’t understand why a human would get so defensive of a fictional story, but it’s pretty dang entertaining.

“Listen, Ryan, he’s the only one who says it like it is.”

“HE’S A BIRD!”

"And? Just because you don't speak parrot doesn't mean he hasn't been serving truth on a platter this whole time." Ryan shook his head, trying to hide a grin. "SQUAWK!" Shane squawked, "Dump his ass, Jasmine! He's been honest with you literally 0% of the time, and he definitely doesn't know shit about ruling Agrabah. You really wanna expose your people to that? SQUAWK! Why don't you just hang out with his sassy gay genie friend instead? SQUAWK!"

After Ryan stopped laughing, he admitted Shane had a point.

"... I did? I mean, of course I did. Because if you think I'M the one who's been in the closet, let me tell you-"

"No! About Aladdin. You're right; friends shouldn't lie to each other. And they shouldn't have to put on façades, either."

"Friends should like you for who you are," Shane added.

"Yeah," Ryan froze mid page-turn. "Wait... yeah! You're exactly right! Did the whole Flynn Rider/Eugene thing finally sink in?"

"Oh, that's what they were trying to say with that?" Tangled was pretty good, admittedly. Shane liked the horse.

Ryan looked confused. "How did you know that, then?"

"Um, because you seemed to..." Shane trailed off.

"You’re mumbling, Shane." Aw, jeez.

"You, um, seemed to like me better when I was just myself." Shane glanced anywhere but Ryan. He ended up stuck staring into Paddington Bear’s twin voids. "Instead of mothman, or whoever."

"Hey," Ryan said softly. Shane looked up. His friend(!!!) smiled warmly. "That's right."

Shane suddenly had the urge to take an olympic dive into a woodchipper. Ryan might've noticed.

"But that's enough for tonight. You seem to have actually learned something, and I have work in the morning, anyways. Come back tomorrow?"

"Yeah, I can do that." As if that wasn't a given. Shane paused at the door. "Oh, wait. Before I go, you have to scream." Ryan raised his eyebrows.

"What?"

"For the scare meter, and my job security and all that."

"Oh, okay. Um, ahhh?" It was more like that awkward sound you make for your dentist.

"Can you give me a little more than that? You don't want that Bench Mark I told you about to beat me again, right?"

"Ahhhh!" Ryan's cheerful scream broke off into giggles. It wasn't adorable, and it didn't make Shane smile as radiantly as the day Spider 227 said her first word. (He swears he heard something, okay?)

"Bye, human."


Scare Meter: 98.5%

Guess Ryan's a good actor. Take that, Bank.


Shane Madej was in a good mood, which was rare. A diamond in the rough, if you will. He brushed aside the unfinished paperwork on his desk to clear space for a dragon plushie. (Ryan gave it to him!!!) Toothless got prime real estate, right next to the spider cam. It looked up at him with round, curious eyes. Curious, but not judgmental. Reminded Shane of someone...

Anyways, Ryan played a couple of the movie’s songs for him after the story last night. (He refused to play anything on his guitar because he’s ‘new at it’, but Shane’s working on that.) So now, ‘A Whole New World’ was stuck in Shane’s head. But he didn’t mind. He kinda liked it. Beats the agonized screams of unrepentant souls, anyhow.

“What the hell are you humming?”

“Shut up, Belt Buckle.”

Chapter Text

Look, Shane recognizes he’s new to human stuff like friendship and caring about others and the YMCA, but he’s not oblivious. He knows the human must have an important reason to forgo hours of precious sleep each week just to read Shane stories.

Ryan’s been trying to teach him something.

And, after two weeks of taking Ryan’s books home and studying them, Shane finally gets it. Just in time, too. Ryan had been facepalming so often that the mark on his forehead was starting to become permanent. And Shane couldn’t wait to share.


‘Beauty and the Beast’ was a good one. More relatable than a rat who’s a chef, at least. Or a woman pursuing an adult relationship with a bee. (Seriously, what the fuck?)

“... And they lived happily ever after.” Shane was slumped against Ryan’s pillows, eyelids fluttering as he tried to suppress a yawn. But he could hear the smile in Ryan’s voice. It was rather endearing.

Ryan closed the book. “You awake over there?”

“Yup, yup,” Shane mumbled. He'd actually been paying close attention. Oh, yes. It was all coming together now.

“So, what’d you think?”

“Of the story? It was good; I liked it.” Ryan seemed pleasantly surprised by the lack of sass. Time for the big reveal:

“... I’m looking forward to your transformation,” Shane said casually.

Hmm. This wasn’t the reaction he’d expected. He could almost see the question marks in his teacher’s eyes.

“My… WHAT?!”

“Your transformation,” Shane repeated patiently, “You know, when you finally turn into a demon.”

“THAT’S WHAT YOU GOT OUT OF THIS?!” Ugh. Why was the human shrieking? Shane wasn’t sleepy anymore. He sat up.

“Well, yeah? Told you I was listening the whole time. Once the beast was self-actualized, he got to turn back into the ‘norm.’”

“And… you think… demons… are the norm?” Ryan asked slowly. Alright, this was getting irritating.

“I know it’s subjective, but I figured you’re one or the other. There’s two of them; two of us. And like, not to be rude, but only one of us can be the Beauty.” The human was, admittedly, quite cute, but come on. Let’s be honest here. Shane didn’t need eyes on the back of his head to notice the appreciative looks that followed him through the underworld.

Ryan’s jaw dropped.

“So, you really think…”

“I’m not trying to offend you, you know. This story is a little mixed up, because here the princess is the one who needs to change, but it’s not too far out. It’s what happened with Tiana when she accidentally turned into a frog.” Shane was a little miffed because he’d basically just given Ryan the highest compliment he could come up with.

Ryan let the book fall to the floor.

“YOU THINK I’M A MOTHER FUCKING PRINCESS???”

Outrage transfigured into amusement like a pumpkin to a golden carriage. Ryan was, quite literally, rolling on the floor. He looked like one of those demonstrators in those fire safety videos. (Fire safety training originated in Hell because, duh.)

“HAHAHAHAH, OH MY GOD-”

Goddammit. This was giving Shane flashbacks to when he was actually trying to scare Ryan. But he knew he was right this time.

“Listen, human, I’ve been studying. I even made a checklist, and you fit all the qualifications. Did it ever occur to you that maybe I know fairy tales better than YOU do at this point?”

Ryan sat up from the carpet.

“Let me see the checklist.”

“No!” Shane crossed his arms.

“Shane, please, I need to see it…” Ryan was holding back laughter. “To, uh, test your knowledge. Maybe you do know it better than me!”

“No! You’re just gonna make fun of me.” Shane turned away, face burning. He almost felt... disappointed? He’d worked so hard to figure out what Ryan wanted from him. It’s great to let someone down again.

“Shane…” Ryan wasn’t laughing anymore. “I’m sorry, did I hurt your feelings? I didn’t mean to...”

Shane wished Bathtub was the one looking at him with sympathy so he could throw a book at him. He sulked instead.

“I don’t have feelings.”

“Your reaction begs to differ.”

Shane stuck his tongue out.

“Now, you’ve convinced me,” Ryan said sarcastically.

Shane poofed another tongue into existence so he could stick TWO tongues out at Ryan.

“Come on, dude. Let’s talk about this. Why do you think I’m a p-princess?” Ryan’s effort not to laugh was Herculean. (Shane recently added that word to his vocabulary.)

“Well, apparently I’m wrong, so it doesn’t matter,” Shane huffed.

“Hey, there…” Ryan rejoined his embarrassed companion on the bed. “Why would you say that? Of course what you think matters. Even if it’s a little different than what most people think.” Shane didn’t bother correcting that he wasn’t a ‘people.’

“I just thought...” Shane began again, “I thought you met everything in my checklist.”

“Can I please see it?” Ryan asked again. Damn those stupid baby dragon eyes.

“No,” Shane refused. “But I’ll read some of it. Maybe. If you don’t make fun of me.”

“Hey...” The human touched his arm, which Shane had been slowly getting used to. “I’m sorry, Shane. I didn’t understand what your theory meant to you. I won’t make fun of you, I promise. And friends keep their promises, right?”

“Well, actually only in about half the stories-”

“Shane.”

“Fine,” Shane sighed. He pulled a crumpled piece of paper from the back pocket of his jeans. He’d scrawled some notes on the back of the paperwork he had yet to fill out. Roz can wait another day.

“Well, first, when we read Sleeping Beauty and The Princess and the Pea, we learned princesses have unusual sleeping schedules. And you told me you have that insomnia thing…”

“Go on.” There was the slightest hint of a smile on his friend’s face. At least he was trying.

“In Aladdin and The Little Mermaid, we learned princesses are curious. Especially about worlds outside of their own, like Jasmine with life outside the palace and Ariel with the human world. And you’re very interested in demon culture…”

“Yeah, I am! That’s right.”

“Mulan was really cool. When we read about her going to war for her dad, I thought princesses had to be fearless. Like you seem to be because you’re nuts.” Ryan chuckled, before stopping himself.

“Laughing at myself!” he clarified. “Not you. I really don’t consider myself fearless.”

“That’s the thing, actually. Because after we read about Merida, I realized it’s more about being brave than fearless. Overcoming fear, rather than the absence of it.” (Merida was great because Ryan let him read for the characters. Shane liked yelling "bUT MA ETS JAST MA BOU.” He didn’t know what it meant, but his terrible accent made Ryan laugh.)

“Yeah… you got it.”

“And then with Rapunzel, we learned princesses are artistic. You play music, even though you won’t show me. And you’re creative. I like your ideas, and I think you can do better than colonoscopy supply commercials.” Ryan blushed.

“Thanks, buddy.”

Shane wasn’t going to get into his notes about how princesses are dazzlingly beautiful like a certain human might be, or how they tended to induce this inconvenient thing called feelings. But he did plan on continuing to detail his observations on how princesses were kind, and caring, and patient, open-minded, adventurous...

But the human was making a weird face.

“Why the fuck are you crying?” (Shane hasn’t gotten much better at the comforting thing.)

“You... really think I’m all those things?” Shane was sick of the incredulous questions. He stuffed his notes back in his pocket.

“Well, apparently not. Because you’re not a princess.” So there. Shane takes it all back.

“But, that’s not really…” Ryan looked like he was trying to solve a math problem in his head. “Okay, let’s start here: First, you know only women can be princesses, right?”

“Says whomst?!”

“Men are princes, Shane.”

“Uh, Kuzco?” Duh.

“Kuzco’s an emperor! The book is LITERALLY called The Emperor’s New Groove.” Shane took his notes back out and started scribbling, shielding it from Ryan’s view.

“What are you writing now? Are you crossing things out?!”

“Don’t worry about it. I’m sick of these Disney stories!”

“Okay, okay,” Ryan relented, “You can pick anything from the bookcase. Go ahead.”

“Anything?” Shane asked suspiciously, scanning the shelves.

“Yup.”

“This one.” Shane chucked ‘If I Did It’ by O.J. Simpson at Ryan.

“... Really?” Shane shrugged.

“It’s your book. And hey, we’ve been preparing for O.J.’s arrival for a while now. This way I’ll actually be getting some work done when I hang out with you! Let’s see if he wrote about any of his fears.”

Ryan rolled his eyes, but shuffled over and lifted the covers.

“Get in, idiot.”


Scare Meter: 99.5%

Huh, Shane didn’t even think Ryan’s fake scream was that good this time.

Chapter Text

“Alright, alright, I know the last few stories have been a lot to take in. How about we try something a little different; you wanna watch a movie?”

“A movie?” Shane asked suspiciously.

“Yeah, instead of imagining a story while you read it, you can watch it on a screen! Movies go really well with popcorn…” Ryan tempted.

“Fine. But no princesses,” Shane gruffed. Let him preserve what little pride he had left.

“No princesses,” said (princess) Ryan. “I have something in mind that’s totally different. You like robots?”

“Robots? Yeah, we have them at the factory! We use them to deliver mail and stuff.” Robots were nice and science-y. Shane's always wanted a pet Roomba, but he'd have to look up which brand was good with children.

“Awesome!” Ryan smiled. “I think you’ll like this one, then. It’s a Pixar movie about a little robot named Wall-E. It’s set after the apocalypse.”

“I do like nuclear annihilation…”

“I know you do.” Awww, he does listen. “Come on, let’s go get set up. Y’know, I don’t think I’ve ever shown you the rest of my apartment. Not that there’s too much to see, anyways…”

Shane followed Ryan into the living room, a little less wary now. He knew the story of the impending end of humanity; Dad had read it hundreds of times. Death, destruction, plagues, the end of the Happy Honda Days Sales Event, all that good stuff. Shane specifically calls it the end of humanity, and not the apocalypse. Because you really think the end of humans means the end of the world? Au contraire, my friends, the planet is going to be doing much better without you and your pollution and your holy wars to advance your peaceful, non-violent religions. Anyways, Shane was looking forward to retreating back into his comfort zone.

And the BEST part about robots? No feelings or emotions whatsoever. Guaranteed. Because they're just hunks of cold metal. Inanimate objects that complete tasks we're too lazy to do ourselves. Oh, and they sometimes need battery replacements. That's about it. Nothing to worry about. Because robots are mechanically incapable of ~love~.


Shane punched a hole in Ryan’s wall.

He apologized profusely.

Chapter Text

After the whole “Shane inflicting property damage because of emotional distress and making said property damage worse when he frantically tried to duct-tape the plaster back together and getting frustrated when it wasn’t working and maybe punching another small hole” incident, Ryan and Shane reached a compromise:

The two took turns choosing the material every night, so they were both satisfied. They'd compiled an ever growing list that looked a little like this:

How to Train Your Dragon ✔
Tangled ✔
Aladdin ✔
Beauty and the Beast ✔
Brave ✔
"If I Did It" ✔
Bee Movie: The Book ✔
Wall-E ✔ (DO NOT WATCH AGAIN)
Finding Nemo
The Terrifying Axeman of New Orleans
Coco
The Covert Poisoning of an Ex-Russian Spy
Toy Story
The Mysterious Disappearance of Roanoke
Tarzan
Who Put Bella in the Wych Elm?
The Incredibles

And, most recently, Cars™. ✔

Cars™, believe it or not, was Shane’s choice. The movie was masterpiece if he’d ever seen one. Ryan vehemently disagreed. It’s probably because the human’s been lucky enough to be around cars his whole life. Ryan Bergara should check his damn privilege.

Anyways, they’d settled into a nice routine. It was comfortable; Shane might even say it was cozy. The cool thing was that he was even doing well at his job, because the broken meter had been working in his favor. Shane was pleasantly surprised at how much he enjoyed having one of these “friends.” He found himself thinking of Ryan even when he wasn’t with him. Just little things that reminded him of the human, or wanting to share little anecdotes about his day, or looking up murder mystery novels that Ryan might enjoy. All good things, right?

But then, *sigh*... things got weird...

Everything changed when the fire nation attacked.

Just kidding, it was Brent Bennett who attacked.

Because Bay Watch is the zodiac killer.

… Really, someone should look into that.

Alright, fine. Shane will stop stalling. Things started changing because Shane started changing because the human started to infect him with this stupid thing called feelings, okay?

God, you people are nosy. If you want someone to overshare sooo badly, read Qezza’s wordpress. She’s Shane co-worker. When Shane shook Qezza's hand for the first time, she projectile word vomited all over his shoes:

“Hi Shane, I’m Qezza. I’m a new scarer who's just trying to find my way, you know? I just had to leave the circle of Hell I’d lived in my entire life because I defied my adoptive father when I defended a human town he wanted to burn down. He was a military general, and that’s how I learned effective scare tactics, so I figured this could be a fresh start. Uh, he still burnt it down, but I did defend people. So yeah, I have no home now.”

“Um, that sucks,” Shane offered. Stephanos was snickering over Qezza's shoulder. “That’s quite remarkable to share, considering I literally just met you. You wanted directions to the water cooler?”

Alright, now Shane's done stalling. Don't you humans have any patience? Apparently not with your instant "which type of bread are you" quiz results and your Tik-Toks and your “gourmet” microwave curry chicken and-

Fine. Fine. Read the next chapter, if you must.

Chapter Text

So yeah, a couple days later, things got weird.

Shane pounded on Ryan Bergara’s door for a good thirty seconds before remembering that he could just walk in. Or bust in, nearly tripping over his feet in the process. You know.

“Ryan!” he called out, disoriented in the bright light. The sun was streaming in through the window. He’d never seen the human’s room in the daytime before.

Wait, fuck. Shane hadn’t arrived at the usual time, because he needed to talk to Ryan now. What if he wasn’t home?

“... Ryan?” To Shane’s dismay, his voice sounded small. Unsure. He collapsed on the floor into a heap of gangly limbs. Oh, no. What am I going to do if Ryan isn't here? Shane hung his head in his hands, resisting the urge to rock back and forth like he’d made so many humans do before…

“Shane?” Ryan was at the doorway. “Whoa, whoa, what’s wrong, buddy? What happened?” He knelt down beside him.

Ryan. Strangely, Shane felt the urge to grab onto him and squeeze like a boa constrictor. But like, a nice boa constrictor. He didn't act on it.

“Shane,” Ryan asked softly, “are you okay?”

“I don’t… know.” Ryan shifted off his knees to sit more comfortably beside him.

“Hey, it’s alright. I’m here. Why don’t you know?”

Shane took a deep breath. Why was he acting so human right now?

“I’m gonna…” Ryan tentatively reached out to him. “I’m gonna touch your hand, if that’s okay?”

And with that statement, scenes from the movie that nearly broke his fist reeled through Shane's mind. It was just a little trash robot wanting to hold hands with another robot. What’s wrong with me?

The offer hung in the air.

Shane might've wanted to touch Ryan’s hand. Shane might’ve even wanted to hold Ryan’s hand. But he just couldn't do it.

“Oh, um, it’s okay…” Ryan withdrew, looking slightly hurt. “Whatever you need, big guy.”

That’s the thing. Shane didn’t know what he needed. Because he’s never felt this way.

“I’m just going to tell you what happened,” he said finally. Ryan nodded, ready to listen. “I was walking home, when I passed by this demon I’d never seen before. I kept walking, because I’m not one to say hi to strangers, but then it happened so quickly. He turned and stabbed me!”

“Stabbed you?!” Ryan went pale. He frantically looked up and down Shane’s lanky body. “Where?!”

“No, not like that. Not like a Freddy Krueger stab. It was worse.”

“Worse?” Ryan asked faintly. He really looked white now.

“He…” Shane’s face wasn’t getting puffy. “He injected me with heroin." Ryan was dumbfounded. "I’m addicted for life now. What’s Dad gonna say when he hears about this?”

“Let me see your arm,” Shane's bewildered friend instructed slowly. But Shane retreated into himself even more.

“That’s not the end of it! I ran home because I didn’t know what to do. And then... I can’t exactly explain why I did this next thing. Maybe because I was panicking. I cut open an avocado, I don’t know, to calm myself down? It was pretty good, actually. But then there was just the pit left, and it still had some meat on it, so I put the whole thing in my mouth like a dumbass, and then I started choking-” It sounded a little like Shane was choking right then.

Hmm. So that's what concern looks like.

“But you spit it out?”

“I don’t remember,” Shane admitted. Why didn't he remember?

“You swallowed it, then?”

Shane shook his head. “I don’t think so; it couldn’t fit down my throat. That's why I was choking.”

“Um, well, it either went in or out, so I think you’re fine, buddy.” Ryan awkwardly patted him on the shoulder.

“That’s the thing, though,” Shane said with a haunted expression. “The avocado pit broke the laws of physics. Because it’s gone. It vanished.”

“You sure it didn’t roll away?” Shane took a moment to consider.

“Well, I guess I didn’t look too much, because I didn’t want to find it in case it wanted to kill me again.”

“Um, how about you let me see your arm.” Shane rolled up the sleeve of his red flannel.

“That’s the thing; the injection isn't there! He stabbed me right here, but it’s gone. Demons don’t heal like that.” Apparently Shane's a fucking unicorn.

“Um, isn’t that a good thing?”

“I don’t know.” Shane's eyes weren’t welling up. They weren't.

Ryan gave Shane a minute to compose himself. Maybe he didn't know what to say, either.

“... Shane, I mean this in the kindest way possible. You’re making no fucking sense.”

“I know!” Shane snapped. “You think I don't know that? That’s why I’m here! Because the universe is broken, or something. Physics isn’t working anymore.” He looked up suddenly. “Oh, please don’t tell me this means ghosts are real…”

“Hey, hey, calm down. Try to breathe, alright? I’m here." And Shane thankful for that. "Let’s try this," Ryan proposed, "can you tell me the last thing that happened before you came here?”

“I woke up in my bed. But I don’t remember how I got there.”

Ryan gave him a long look.

“... You’re saying all these scary things happened, and then you woke up in bed and realized they weren’t real?”

“Yeah, I guess. Yeah.” Ryan heaved a sigh of relief.

“You’re okay, Shane. You're totally fine.” Ryan almost pulled Shane into a hug, before appearing to think better of it. Shane had almost wanted him to.

“How can you sound so confident about that?” Shane wasn't convinced his brain was still functioning.

“You’re okay… because that was a nightmare.”

Chapter Text

Brrrng, brrrng, brrrng...

I’m sorry, the number you’ve dialed is not available right now. Your call has been forwarded to an automated voice messaging system. At the tone, please record your message. When you've finished recording you may hang up, or press 'one' for more options.


Beep.

“Hey, Dad. It’s Shane again... I know you’re busy and stuff, but I need to talk to you. About my mother. We never talk about her, but I’m really confused right now… If she was a human soul, does that mean I’m partially human, or that I could become a human somehow?

I don’t know… You want me to be a scarer, but I don’t think I’m right for the job anymore. Being around humans so much is bringing out a different side of me, and I don’t know if I like it...

I just need your advice, okay? There’s no one else like me, so I don’t have anyone to talk to. It’s not like God ever picks up the damn phone; even you get back to people faster than that...

Listen, I know you never really wanted to take responsibility for me, but I’m still your son. It’s not like every kid dreams of having the actual devil for a dad, either. But you’re still my father, and honestly... it’s time you start acting like it. I don't mean to be disrespectful. I’m just saying that I deserve to have your personal number, not just your work one. Like it or not, we’re the only family we have.

Just call me back, alright?

Take care, Dad."


Click.

Chapter Text

“This was… a nightmare?” Shane asked slowly.

“You’ve never had one before?”

Shane looked at Ryan like he was ridiculous. “Demons don’t get nightmares; we are nightmares.” Now Shane sounded like an eighth grader after her second shopping spree at Hot Topic. Leave him be. He's having a day, okay?

Ryan was at a loss.

“I don’t know what else to tell you, buddy. That’s exactly what a nightmare is like, and if you couldn’t find any evidence when you woke up…”

Then it hit him.

“What the fuck? I’m being Punk’d, aren't I?”

“Uh, I don’t think-”

“ASHTON KUTCHER, YOU GET OUT HERE THIS INSTANT!” Shane roared.

“Is that show even on air anymore?”

“JUST YOU WAIT UNTIL MY FATHER HEARS ABOUT THIS, ASHTON!” Oh, he's gonna pay.

“Shane!” Ryan grabbed him by the shoulders. Quite impressive that he could reach. “Look at me!”

“But…” Were those cameras in Paddington's eyes? Shane knew he could never trust that bear.

“I mean it! Stop looking for cameras, dude. You’re not being pranked. I wouldn’t do this to you.”

“Oh, I know,” Shane said easily. Ryan was his friend.

"..."

It’s great when someone looks at you like you’re crazy, especially when you’re not even playing an undead asylum patient wielding a machete.

“... Then who do you think is pranking you?”

“Ashton? I just told you. I don’t know when he got back to Hell, but-”

“Ashton Kutcher's in Hell?!” Ryan exclaimed.

“Oh right, you don’t know." Sometimes, Shane forgets there's a lot he needs to catch the human up on. "If it wasn’t obvious, Ashton’s a demon.”

The look on Ryan’s face implied it wasn’t.

“Ryan, he spent like 10 years making people lose their shit for a living. He's a brilliant scarer. One of the best we've ever had, actually. So good that Dad gave him special privileges.” Does Shane get special privileges? Nope.

“Oh my God, so you really can sell your soul to become famous?” Ryan warily eyed his guitar in the corner of the room. “So Robert Johnson really-?”

“What? No!” Demon lore is ridiculous. “No offense, but no one wants your soul, dude. What would we even do with it, anyways? Take it for walks?”

“I dunno, demon stuff?”

Shane rolled his eyes. A clear sign he was back to acting like himself. “Uh, no. He wanted to try being a human, so Dad let him reincarnate as one for a round, provided that he continue scaring people. He had to generate a certain amount of power in his lifetime, so I guess he quit Punk’d once he met his goal.”

Ryan just stared at him.

“And no, he didn’t sell his soul to be an actor or anything. Ashton did that all himself. We’re not supposed to interact, remember?”

Ryan kept staring.

“Shane… has anyone ever told you that you’re good at deflecting?” Bedbug would be fist pumping if he were here right now. Don't you dare tell him. “None of this is really about Ashton, bro.”

Shane sighed. “Well, if it wasn’t him, I don’t think anyone else would’ve done it. Scarers operate under specific licenses, and the bosses would never make me an assignment.” One of the few perks of having the literal devil as your dad? No one fucks with you.

Ryan rubbed his chin. “Well, instead of focusing on who, let’s ask why? What was the dream trying to tell you?”

“Ryan, I got injected with heroin and almost choked on an avocado pit. Wasn't exactly Ghost of Christmas Past. I was just terrified, and confused, and helpless…”

“But did you die?” Ryan deadpanned.

“Say what?” Rude.

“You didn’t die, right?” Ryan repeated.

“Your sass isn’t appreciated, Bergara.”

“My sass?” Ryan challenged. “No Shane, it’s yours.”

Oh. And then Shane remembered their conversation about nightmares.

“But I was talking in the context of generating power, and this didn’t do any good-”

“Even if it didn’t, what’s the harm? It wasn’t real. If it happens again, you probably won’t even remember.”

“I could have another one?” Shane asked weakly. Oh, crap.

“Yeah, but it’s a necessary evil and all that,” Ryan said dismissively.

“...”

“I’m being sarcastic, dude.”

Hey. The role of sarcastic asshole was taken, thank you very much.

“Shane, I’m trying to make you understand. This is exactly what you guys have been doing to humans. Non-stop. This is how it makes us feel.”

Oh.

Oh.

Oh.

Shane slumped on the edge of the bed.

“This… isn’t right.”

Ryan joined him. The two were shoulder to shoulder, gazing down at the carpet.

“No,” Ryan agreed. “It’s not.”


Shane had some thinking to do. A lot of thinking.

And then, unfortunately, he needed to speak with the King of Hell.

Chapter Text

"You're gonna have to tell him eventually, dude."

Ryan sighed. "Yeah, probably. He's just... different ya know?"

Ricky snorted. "That's an understatement." Ryan's friend might still be a little bitter about having his own decapitated head dropped on him.

"No, I'm not talking about the demon-thing," Ryan clarified, "He's just, um..." Has enough emotional baggage to make Jet-Blue charge triple? Finds the plight of Dumbo the Elephant "not compelling"? Exasperates Ryan to no end? Is possibly the most fascinating, gentle hearted not-person Ryan's ever known?

"Well, Thanksgiving with his dad might be a little awkward. What would you bring? Deviled eggs?” Ricky chuckled at his own joke.

"Nah, I don't care about that." Lucifer probably has nothing on a certain mother-in-law Ryan knows of. "Shane's family doesn't get to define who he is." But does Shane know that?

"Well, what's the issue then? I know he hasn't said how he feels about you-"

"And he probably never will." Ryan wasn't expecting him to. He’s only beginning to understand what Shane has been through, so he gets it. He really does. Still stings a little, though.

"But he's shown it...”

"Yeah, I know he cares about me." Again, Ryan couldn't imagine his crush saying that to him. But Shane’s risked his job and livelihood several times now to protect Ryan, so there was no doubt there.

"It's more than that, bro. I care about you, but I'm not interested in having a pajama party with you every night... Actually, I'm probably never sleeping over again, now that there's a literal monster in your closet. Who’s kinda rude, to be honest.”

Ugh, can Ricky get over that already? No one makes a perfect first impression.

"He's not a monster! Don't call him that." Ryan could vividly picture Ricky rolling his eyes.

"Oh come on, I didn't mean it like that. What's the politically correct term, then?"

"He's just my friend. Call him my friend," Ryan said stubbornly.

"Alright, sure. Do you want to call him your friend?"

Ryan groaned. When did Ricky, the guy who thought there was a state called "East Virginia" for 26 years, become a professional love guru? Oh right, when he became the only person Ryan could talk to about this.

"Dude, you know I don't believe in the 'friend-zone'. It's not all or nothing for me. I'm happy to have him in my life, in whatever form that takes."

"You know, I'd almost believe that. If I hadn't heard the song you wrote." Ryan called Ricky to have a good time, and he's honestly feeling so attacked right now.

"Fine. I'll just say it... I don't think Shane knows how love works." And it breaks Ryan's heart.

Ricky was surprisingly blasé. "So? He's not special. Think about all the dysfunctional relationships you know. My dad's one argument away from his fourth divorce, so I'll let you know when he figures out how love works."

"I don't want to divorce Shane..." Ryan said miserably. If Shane and him had a friend break-up, Ryan wouldn't even have any social media to stalk along with his ice cream.

"That's not... That's the opposite of what we're trying to do here, man."

Ryan's known Ricky long enough to brace for the pep talk:

"Listen, I don’t even really like the guy, but I can tell you do. A lot. And I’ve seen how much happier you’ve been since he’s been around. You're smiling more, and getting excited about your work again, and you even seem to be giving LA more of a chance, now. Basically, you're yourself again. Guess I gotta thank him for that. The point is, don't wait too long, okay?"

"But the thing is..."

"And I hear you. The guy probably is afraid of you, in a way. It sounds like he's had two emotions in his whole life, goddamn. But you can't put this all on him. We both know you're scared, too."

"Alright, maybe," Ryan grumbled. "Yeah, I'm scared that if I tell him how I feel, he'll quite literally run screaming out of the room."

"Everyone deals with that, dude. You're part of the generation that tries its best not to "catch feelings." And honestly, if I hadn't seen all the blood and gore, I'd say this guy is human. Incredibly human, actually. You can't use the but he's a demon excuse forever."

"Ugh, fine. I'll get around to it, okay?"

And with that, Ryan changed the subject.


It's amazing how normal chilling with your demon friend becomes after a while. Ryan and Shane spent the night ordering take-out and playing video games. To Ryan's surprise, Shane preferred Animal Crossing to Fortnite. Although, he was still pretty sadistic with kicking residents out of his village. Same old Shane.

The boys were sitting in comfortable silence now. Ryan was laying across his bed, watching the basketball game on his phone. (He gave up on getting Shane into sports weeks ago.) Shane was sprawled out in the corner, reading a NASA magazine Ryan got for him.

Time to pop the question. And no, not the question Ricky wants him to ask.

"Hey, Shane... could you show me where you work?"

"Uh, why would you want to do that?" Shane continued absentmindedly flipping through the magazine. "It's not, like, cool or anything. It's just a building."

"Not cool to you, maybe. But to me, absolutely."

Shane smirked. "What is this, take your human to work day?"

"It could be." Most people think Ryan's not aware of the effect of his wide, innocent eyes. But Ryan knows exactly what he's doing.

Shane put the magazine down. "I mean, it's just an office and a scare floor..."

Okay. Pleading was ineffective on the "monster" in his closet. Noted. Remind Ryan to write that in his journal later. Next step: emotional blackmail.

"Hey Shane, remember when I helped you with your script for that voicemail?"

The demon narrowed his eyes. "I thought friends don't hold things over each other's heads."

"No, no, of course I'm not doing that..." (Ryan was totally doing that.) "It's just about reciprocity, ya know? It's an important concept in relationships."

"Um, wait a minute..." Shane exaggeratedly felt around for the glasses resting right next to him. Ryan knew Shane could see perfectly fine without his glasses; he wasn't Velma or anything. What a dork.

It was hard not to smile.

"Found it!" Shane put his glasses on, blinking owlishly as he pretended to look around for Ryan. "Oh, there you are! I can see past your bullshit now!"

Ryan wheezed. At least he tried.

Fortunately, Shane lost his resolve. Ryan wondered what did it.

"But... fine. You can even meet Billboard. Hah."

Ryan's eyes lit up. "Really?! You'd do that for me?"

"Yeah, sure. Whatever." Shane looked back down at his magazine, a blush creeping up his neck. Don't hug him, don't hug him, don't hug him...

"But is it... safe?" Yes, Ryan just asked if Hell was safe.

"Of course it is. Well, for you specifically. Humans shouldn't tour Hell, for obvious reasons. But you'd be with me. I'm not going to let anything happen to you. Did you forget? I'm technically the ~Prince of Hell~, baby!" The Prince of Hell was currently munching on a Twizzler.

Ryan tried to suppress the little (!!!) in his heart at baby. "Wow, um, okay then! Can we go now?"

"Uh, we should probably go over some rules first." Shane put the magazine down.

"That's fair."

"First, you gotta stick with me, okay? No running off."

Ryan wouldn't dream of it. Hell, without Shane, would be... Hell. He nodded.

"You have to let me do most of the talking, or you're gonna get yourself in some deep shit."

"I can do that."

"And then, I guess just try not to touch things or play around stuff, unless I say it's okay. Think of it like a fine art museum."

"Got it." Ryan thought back to the horrific museum of wax he visited a few months ago. Never again.

Shane tapped on his chin. "Realistically, it'd be easiest to pretend you're another demon. We have student tours sometimes. And there's always loads of interns running around. Too many to bother with names, so I just call them numbers." Shane smirked. "Number four is the fastest with coffee."

"Alright, looks like we have more empathy lessons to cover..."

"Yeah, yeah..." Shane waved his hand dismissively. "Just act like a demon. And please, no stereotypes. Don't insult us. If you try to make even one crossroads deal, I'm going to be very disappointed in you."

Ryan laughed. "I promise." There's not much he'd make a deal with a demon for. Unless it was for getting a certain other demon to notice him... "So, what's the dress code? I don't have, like, horns in my closet."

"No dress code; demons pretty much look like humans. Unless they shapeshift, but that's limited to work purposes. You'll have to stop with the glowy stuff, though." Shane gestured vaguely at Ryan.

"Glowy stuff?" Ryan looked down at his body in confusion. Did he go overboard with the teeth whitener again?

"Yeah, you know. Turn that human thing off." Once, Shane told Ryan that if he ever started to feel a little nervous, he'd just go into that part of his brain and turn it off. It was mildly concerning.

"I... can't? I don't know what you're talking about. Humans don't glow."

Shane sighed in exasperation. "I'm not talking about a literal glow. Ugh. Okay, we don't have a word for this where I'm from, but it's like... the atmosphere around you. I'm not going to say aura, because that's what Build-A-Bear would call it, and he's a moron."

Ryan snorted. Could this guy really be that bad?

"... I just mean that thing when you get all bright and warm and stuff. Demons don't have that. And sometimes you get it on me, too. And then I get all bright and warm and it does this weird thing to my pulse? And kinda my skin, too? It's almost like one of those glitter bombs, because it doesn't really go away. But yeah, it usually comes from your smile, but it can come from your eyes, too, or your laugh sometimes. It gets everywhere." Shane sighed. "So just like, suck it in. Alright?"

What a fucking idiot. Truly, the dumbest of asses. A fool if Ryan's ever met one.

Yup.

Ryan's in love.

Ryan is so, so in love.

Chapter Text

The first thing Ryan learned from his tour is that Shane is terrible with descriptions. Just terrible. The thing is, Shane only mentions what he thinks is important, which leaves a lot to be desired. So yeah, Inferno Power Systems was more than just a building.

Much, much more.


"... And then just remember to walk in casually; we don't want to attract attention to ourselves. You ready?"

"I don't think I'll ever really be ready, but let's do it," Ryan said determinedly. He opened the closet door, but the only monster he saw was the ever mounting pile of laundry in his hamper. "How do you do this?"

Shane smirked and closed the door. "You have to go in with me, dumbass. Here, take my hand."

"Really?" Shane was going to let Ryan touch him?

"Don't make it weird. Come on," Shane wiggled his fingers. Ryan took his hand, and stepped into another world.

A warped world.

"W-Whoa!" Ryan immediately lost his footing. He'd tried to step out onto a floor that was tilted at a thirty-degree angle.

"Ryan!" Shane caught him before he hit the floor. Caught him quite gracefully, actually. Ryan's going to be honest; his heart was pounding as Shane looked at him with concern. "Ryan?"

"I'm... okay." Ryan was pretty dazed. He kept clinging onto Shane, who maintained a firm grip on Ryan's waist. Ryan was thankful, because he didn't feel quite secured to the floor. He was almost worried about floating up into the air like a balloon. "Why is everything weird?"

Shane tilted his head. "What do you mean?" God, he was so close. Were those amber flecks in his eyes?

"It's all..." Ryan gestured vaguely. Backwards wasn't the right word. Upsidedown wasn't either. Ryan's closest comparison was to one of those tacky "Mystery Spot" tourist attractions, where the proportions and perspectives were distorted. At least there weren't chairs on the wall in this place. Things in the distance weren't exactly the right size, though...

"Oh! Hell and Earth have slightly different gravitational fields and orientations. And the air pressure varies here. Nothing that's dangerous for you, though. I promise."

Ryan didn't know if it was dizziness, shock, or thirst that made him lean his head into Shane's chest. Probably all three. Remarkably, Shane allowed it. Shane Freaking Madej was holding him.

"I'm sorry, Ry," Shane said quietly. "I completely forgot what it's like. It's pretty disorienting at first, but it goes away quickly. That's why I kept wiping out when I walked into your room," he chuckled. "The change takes a while to get used to."

Ryan pulled his head away. "So you're NOT a huge klutz?"

Shane laughed. "Not here, dude. I'm smooth as fuck. Who's the klutz now?"

Ryan groaned. "Me. Definitely me. So much for walking in casually."

"Nah, don't worry about it. I've got you." Ryan looked up with a puzzled expression. Shane was being... nice? His demon-friend seemed different. Not physically, although he was standing up straighter. Shane just seemed relaxed here; at ease. Well, it made sense. This was his home base. Looks like it's Ryan's turn to be the awkward one.

Unfortunately, Ryan couldn’t hang onto Shane forever. He stepped back. Alright, it wasn't too bad. Kind of like standing on a slanted roof; he wouldn't wipe out as long as he concentrated on his balance. Ryan finally looked around.

Behind them, an exact replica of Ryan's door was attached to a metal frame, sticking up from the floor. It looked as if you'd simply end up on the other side if you passed through, but apparently you'd be back in Ryan's bedroom.

The were standing were in a long, wide room, with doors lined up against opposite walls. An orange, fluffy monster with a horn stepped out of one, giving Shane the "sup" nod, which he promptly returned. A shiny, purple monster scuttled from one door to the next. A lime-green monster with way too many eyes slithered wearily to the exit, swiping a card on his/her/their way out.

Everyone was minding their own business, aside from a few curious looks. It was nice, considering how much Ryan had managed to embarrass himself in the past 30 seconds.

"I mean, I guess it's kind of cool." Shane turned to face Ryan's door. "See this?" He pointed to a dial with an arrow over the archway. It ranged from 0% (red) to 100% (bright green). "This shows how much fuel we obtain from each session. This one is broken, but it's actually been working to our advantage, so I stopped bringing it up to IT. They're useless, anyways."

"Oh, okay. So it's like one of those Test Your Strength games at a carnival."

Shane frowned. "A carnival?"

"It's... never mind. I'll explain later. Can we see more?" Ryan tried to take a step forward, but gravity shifted and he stumbled. God, this was like learning to walk all over again. "Can I, um, hold onto you for a bit?"

"Sure.” Shane offered his arm. Ryan didn't have much pride left at this point, so he was happy to cling to him like a child clutching his mother's sleeve in a grocery store. "Hey, it's better than Heaven at least. There's barely any gravity there. How do you think angels can fly?"

Uhhh...


Shane and Ryan were walking to the offices when they bumped into an Asian man/demon with glasses and bubblegum pink hair.

"Hey, Steven. I'm giving a little student tour today." Steven eyed Ryan curiously. Shit. We never came up with a fake name. Ryan wasn't quick enough to come up with one on the spot; it'd probably be something ridiculous like Banjo McClintok.

Luckily, Steven didn't ask.

"Nice to meet you. This is a great place to work. And Shane, I've never seen you give a student tour before; it's nice to see you taking an interest in your job again. You really must like working with that human. I've never seen an employee so attached to just one assignment before. But you've been generating tons of power, so keep it up!"

???

Shane coughed. "Hah, I'm not attached, I just... We gotta go, bye."

In his haste to get away, Shane forgot to offer Ryan his arm. But that's okay; Ryan was getting the hang of it. Sort of.


The pair was walking down a narrow hallway when Shane suddenly lowered his voice:

"Come on, there's something I want you to see. But we have to go through reception to get there," Shane whispered, "So walk quietly."

"Why would we have to-"

"SHANE MADEJ!" The boys jumped. "WHERE IS YOUR FUCKING PAPERWORK?"

"Fuck," Shane swore under his breath. "Sorry in advance, Ry."

Sorry for what?

Shane reluctantly approached the reception desk, looking like a dog who's been caught drinking from the toilet. Again.

"Oh hey, Roz. Ryan, please meet my dearest co-worker; the backbone of this factory..."

Roz glowered.

"Um," Shane rubbed the back of his neck, "I have to say, you're looking fabulous today. Is that a new haircut?"

The demon's glossless, wiry hair was retrained by mangy bun. Lunch lady retro.

"... Tell me it’s a new haircut. It’s got to be a new haircut..."

"Shane!" Ryan hissed in warning. But the idiot kept going.

"New makeup?" he tried. "Uh, you had a lift?"

Roz's wrinkles sank deeper into her sagging skin as she scowled.

"... You had a tuck? You had something...?"

If you think this is painful to read, imagine living through it. And Shane just kept going.

"... Something has been inserted in, in you that makes you look…" Shane's face fell. He sighed. "Listen, I need a favor."

"You're serious? You're actually serious?" Her thunderous glare pivoted to Ryan. "Is he serious?"

"Um, I think so..."

Shane non-subtly stepped in front of Ryan, shielding him from the worst of the scolding.

"Um, yeah. I am. See, the favor is that I'm trying to show this student around..." Ryan waved meekly behind him. "Which means I don't really have time to complete that paperwork today, but I can definitely get to it tomorrow," he assured confidently.

"Your word means nothing to me, Madej," Roz sneered, "Nothing."

"Um, what if I write my promise down on paper? Like a contract?" Shane grabbed a post-it note off the desk. Uh oh, her face is getting red.

"Shane, stop!" Ryan stepped up to the desk again. "What Shane means to say, is that he's sorry. How long have you been waiting for this paperwork?

"Two fucking months!"

"Two months, Shane? Really?"

Shane shrugged.

"It's nice to meet you, Roz. Like he said, I'm Ryan. I'm interested in working here, and I'd love to know more about what you do. This paperwork sounds like it means a lot to you, so it must have a really important purpose."

Her face softened. "It does. See, two months ago, Lucifer downsized the administration department. Significantly." She turned to Shane. "Your dad is a cheapskate."

"No arguments there."

"Anyways, our quarterly reports are due soon, and all the responsibility falls on me. It's too much for one demon to handle, but if I don't get everything in on time, my job could be on the line."

"Your job?" Ryan gasped, "But Shane's told me you've been here for years!" (He didn't.) "Shane said you're one of Inferno's most important employees." (He didn't say that, either.) "Everyone needs you. I don't know how any business would operate without administration and reception. Without someone to organize and keep track of everything, it'd be chaos..."

Was that...? No, it couldn't be. Actually, Ryan thinks it is.

Roz was smiling.

"You're the first one who's said that to me."

Ryan frowned. "Well people- uh, demons are assholes. They should really appreciate you more." Ryan gave Shane a pointed look.

"Um, yeah, yeah. That's all true. I appreciate you, Roz. We all do. I didn't know about the downsizing, or your job or anything..."

Roz raised her eyebrows.

"But that's because I didn't ask!" Shane rushed out. "It's my fault. I can be kind of..."

"Self-centered and oblivious?" she offered.

"Yeah. That." Shane finished lamely.

"Don't you have something else to say, Shane?" He looked at Ryan in confusion.

I'm sorry, Ryan mouthed.

"Hey, Roz? I'm really sorry. I'm usually caught up in my own head, so I never considered why this might've been so important, or how my father's decisions have impacted you. That was wrong of me."

That sounded... genuine?

Roz sighed. "Fine, apology accepted. So, if I let you have your tour today, you'll actually get it to me tomorrow this time?"

"Yeah, I promise."

"No," Ryan corrected. Shane looked at him in bewilderment. "I promise. I'll make sure he does it." And Ryan intended to.

Roz chuckled. "Well, if it were up to me, we'd hire you right now. Nice to meet you, Ryan."

"Likewise."


"And here we are." Shane had stopped in front of a massive, round, steel door that resembled the exterior of a bank vault.

"What is it?" Ryan asked curiously. Do demons store blocks of gold as currency or something?

"You'll see," Shane searched his pockets. "Aw, man. I must've forgotten my swipe card. Shit. I guess you can't see it." Shane must've noticed Ryan's disappointment, because he quickly changed his mind. "It's okay! I can go find someone. Just stay here, alright? And don't talk to anyone if you can help it. Don't worry, not many are authorized to come down here; you should be fine."

"Um, okay?" Ryan responded nervously. He wasn't too comfortable being left alone in literal Hell, but he trusted Shane, who gave him a quick smile and squeezed his shoulder before running off.

Five minutes passed.

Ten minutes passed.

Oh, no. Ryan had officially lost his mom in the grocery store.

Ryan tried not to panic. Yes, he trusted Shane. But that meant that he trusted Shane to come back, unless there was a serious reason why he couldn't. Was he okay? Was Ryan going to be okay? He would've started pacing, except he didn't dare draw attention to himself.

It was funny. Before Shane had left, Ryan had to keep reminding himself where they were. The place was weird, sure. It definitely couldn't be confused with Earth. But it was more like a fun house, or a virtual reality game. Strange, but not terrifying. He didn't feel unsafe, until now. Not to say Shane’s like Ryan's daddy or anything like that. Uh, Ryan doesn't know why he said that. Haha. Have fun with that one, commenters.

Anyways, what was it about Shane that could make Ryan forget he was in the most horrifying of places? And now that he's not here...

"Hey, Ryan!"

Ryan jumped, then immediately sighed in relief. Shane was walking towards him with a short, dark-haired demon at his side. She looked mildly irritated.

"Ugh. You know we're not supposed to swipe our personal cards for anyone else," she reminded Shane.

"I know, I know. Just this once, please, Jen? I'd hate for this student here to miss the best part of the tour..." Ryan smiled weakly.

"... Fine." She stepped in front of them, swiping her card through the slot near the handle. Ryan heard the whirring of machinery and clicking of gears working together. With a rusty creak, the heavy door swung open rather quickly. Shane pulled Ryan from its path. You know, Ryan could really get used to this more chill version of Shane, who could touch him without a thought.

The three stepped inside the doorway. They were in a kind of vestibule, with the hallway behind them and two thick, steel doors ahead.

"Enjoy." And Jen was gone. The door locked in place behind her. Ryan stared at it.

"Don't worry," Shane assured. "We'll be able to get out when we're done."

"Oh, okay..."

Shane frowned. "Why are you still making that face?"

"My face? Oh, I was just kind of worried that you wouldn't come back..."

Shane's brow furrowed. "But I told you I was coming back. It was only ten minutes."

"No, I know. It's fine." Shane was still looking at him.

"I don't get it, then. Of course I was going to come back. I wouldn't leave you." He sighed. "I... genuinely don't understand. Can you help me?"

Shane actively wanting a lesson? That's a first.

"No, Shane, it wasn't about you. I trust you; I knew you'd come back unless there was some terrible reason why you couldn't. And then when you didn't... I was worried about you, and scared because that would mean I'm all alone in Hell. I have no idea what's going on or how this place works, and I wouldn't know what to do or how I'd find you or if I'd be able to get home..."

"Ryan..." Shane started, "You know that no one here would actually hurt you, right? Even if something did happen to me." Ryan could see him beginning to say demons aren't cruel, before he paused. "Actually, I guess you didn't know that. Huh. I'm sorry... this is just an office for me. In my mind, you were just going to be standing in a hallway. I thought the worst you'd be is bored. I guess I didn't think about what it'd be like for a human here, especially for the first time."

Oh my. Is this what proud moms feel like?

"Thanks, Shane. You're getting it."

"... I am? I didn't totally misinterpret everything again?" Ryan smiled and shook his head.

"No, you got it."

"Wow, really? Okay, cool..." Shane grinned. "Ready to open the doors?" Ryan braced himself for whatever was coming.

"As long as you go first."

Chapter Text

Instead of stepping into a room, the boys stepped out into wide open lawn. Huh, this hadn’t seemed like an exit. A glimmering reflection pool stretched out in front of them. It was a dreary day, but Ryan still had to blink as he adjusted from the dimly lit factory.

The door behind them swung shut. Ryan turned around to see the factory had vanished. Only the doorway was left, jutting up from the ground. Perplexed, Ryan walked in a circle around it.

“It’s another portal,” Shane explained.

“To where, exactly?” Ryan just saw grass and greenery extending in all directions.

“Well, I wanted to show you what fear looks like in its purest form. Come on.” Shane gestured for Ryan to follow.

The pair walked across a meticulously maintained garden, towards the long, rectangular pool ahead of them. The side facing them was maybe ten feet wide, but its length extended as far off into the distance as Ryan could see, eventually blurring with the horizon.

“What...?”

“Ryan, look." Shane pointed at the water. Stepping forwards, Ryan realized it wasn't water at all. The substance swirled lazily in a mosaic of glossy colors, as iridescent as gasoline spilled on pavement. The scent of rusted metal interspersed with freshly cut grass. Ryan carefully knelt down besides Shane. Clouds passed overhead, occasionally letting sunlight illuminate the substance, making it reflective enough to glimpse the boys' faces. Ryan was mesmerized.

"It's oil," Shane explained.

"Oil? Like what we use on Earth?"

"More or less. It's the same concept. When we first harvest fear, it's a natural gas. Basically just electrically-charged air. It has a dangerously high temperature, so we divert to the refinery first to cool it down to its liquid state. Then we let it flow into distillation chambers, which use gravity to separate out the impurities. Emotions like grief and misery have the highest density, so they sink to the bottom. And then there's rage, which is powerful, but only sparks for a minute or two. It just evaporates after that. Which leaves behind... this. Fear in its purest form, ready for consumption. Cool, right?"

"... Who knew you were smart?"

Shane just laughed and tossed a stone in the pool.

Ryan tilted his head at the substance, watching the dull hues ripple outwards. "Where does it go from here?"

"Normally to gas stations, but this particular oil doesn't go anywhere; it's just decorative. This is my father's office, actually.”

"An office?!" Ryan peered further into the pool. Shane pulled him back onto the grass.

"Not down there, you idiot! Don't touch anything. It's radioactive."

"What, am I going to turn into Spider-Man?" Ryan grinned.

"Uh, no. You die. I meant, look out there."

Ryan followed Shane's gaze out into the distance, but he didn't see anything at first. Just the rectangular pool, extending out perpetually ahead of them like a road. He squinted, and saw a small black blip on the horizon. "What is that?"

"My father's office," Shane repeated. "Oh, you know what? You probably can't see it from here. Try looking from where I am." Shane was sitting right next to him; could the view really be that different? Ryan shifted over on the grass, and everything came into focus.

"Whoa!" It was a massive, gothic style mansion, reigning over the head of the pool. The inky black bricks emanated a castle. The towering structure's reflection stretched out onto the pool, making it appear much taller. "What...?" Ryan stood up, moving from spot to spot. "How does it keep changing size?" From Ryan's original location, it was barely noticeable. Shifting a couple feet to the right, it was almost in front of them. Shifting left, it looked miles away.

"It's not really changing," Shane explained, still sitting on the grass. "It's an illusion my dad had installed. Kind of a security thing. He was sick of demons bothering him and interrupting him, so this is meant to confuse potential visitors. Because you could walk towards the house for hours, but never actually get there." Shane grimaced. "Not without an appointment."

"... Including you?" Ryan asked softly.

"Yeah," Shane put his arms around his knees, "Including me."

Ryan felt his blood boil. What a fucking asshole. What kind of dick requires their kid to make an appointment just to see them? He could feel a vicious rant coming on. But he looked down at Shane, who was just watching the oil currents loop in sluggish figure eights. Ryan had never seen him so quiet. The sarcastic bite was gone; Ryan found he missed it. He swallowed his anger and sat back down next to his friend.

"I used to come here a lot, when I was growing up. I'd just read and stuff. When dad was busy, which was most of the time, this was the closest I could get to him," Shane’s laugh was bitter. "Literally."

"Shane that's... not okay. I don't care who he is. No one should treat their son like that." Shane avoided eye contact.

"Um... I know you want me to learn emotions and all that, but do I have to talk about it?"

Ryan shook his head. "No, you never have to talk about it if you don't want to. Friends don't push you."

Shane smiled, just a little. "Thanks, Ry. Can we just sit here for a bit?"

"Sure. As long as you want, buddy."

The friends sat back on the grass, taking in the scenery. Ryan was studying the house, while Shane seemed to look anywhere else. There was something about the isolated mansion that seemed - for lack of a better word - off. Sure, it was large, grand, ornate in every sense of the word, exactly what you'd expect from the King of Hell. And yet, there was a puzzle piece missing that Ryan couldn't seem to fit into place. Not until he glanced over at the clouded look on Shane's face.

All at once, Ryan saw exactly what was missing. The estate was regal, with neatly trimmed hedges and sparkling fountains, but there was no feeling to it, no emotion. Ironic, considering the pool of concentrated fear sitting right outside. There was just nothing "coming off" of it, if you get what Ryan means. He supposed it was meant to be impressive, but it was just a dull, black, block of stone. Ryan didn't think any amount of imposing spires or stained glass windows could disguise that.

For the first time, Ryan wondered how many hours had passed since they'd arrived in Hell. Like everything else, time seemed a little distorted here. But Ryan didn't feel tired or anything, he was content to just sit there with Shane. Oddly, this part of Hell was almost peaceful.

Almost. And then not at all.

The boys sat silently by the reflection pool. And then Ryan watched the abstract swirls begin to ripple into something else entirely.

Ryan couldn't tear his eyes away as the metallic hues rearranged themselves into something more intentional. Harsh reds, blunt oranges, and shrieking yellows flowed to the top of the pool, drifting back and forth horizontally. Muted blues, violets, and pinks whirled in a loose, circular current to the right. Darker browns and blacks formed into straight lines, streaming diagonally across the pool. What...? Ryan leaned closer.

"Ryan..." Shane warned, grabbing his arm.

"No, no, I'm not going to touch it, I just want to see..."

Shane hadn't let go. "Seriously, don't get any closer."

"Wait, there's something in there..." Ryan peered down at his reflection. A young man with dark, messy hair and a curious expression peered back.

"What's wrong with you?! Get away from there!" Shane's reflection appeared behind him, gripping Ryan under the arms and tugging him backwards.

"Shane!" Ryan protested. "I'm not going to jump or anything. Just look down!"

Shane didn't release him, but he stopped pulling. "Wait... what the fuck is that? I've never seen that before..."

So Shane could see it, too. The two watched as their reflections morphed into two ghostly figures, losing any distinguishable features. The figures were barely human anymore; humanoid at best. And yet, they were unquestionably human. Because, as the figures stared back at them, they clutched their faces in agony. Their skin went pale, eyes grew wide, and mouths fell open. Ryan covered his ears, bracing for the blood-curdling screams that never came. Shane took this moment to yank Ryan back to safety. The two tumbled backwards onto the grass.

"Ryan! Look at me!" Ryan did, and the horrific scene vanished. All he saw were Shane's wide, frightened eyes as he searched Ryan's face.

"What. The fuck. Was that?" Ryan panted. He forced himself to look back over his shoulder. The pool was a pool again, glimmering innocently.

Shane shook his head. He was just as rattled. "I don't know. I've been coming here my whole life, and I've never seen that thing. If it's been here this whole time... Oh my God, do you think my dad knows it's here? Should we warn him? But he won't even answer my freaking calls!" Shane kept rambling, but Ryan couldn't find it in him to respond.

Because he felt distinctly sick. Once, when Ryan was a teenager, he witnessed the most awful scene of his life. He'd been walking to school when a little boy ran into the street. His father ran after him, but it was too late. The boy was hit by a car. Logically, Ryan knows he must've heard the screeching skid of the car as it tried to veer out of the way, and then the resulting smash of the collision that ended with a sickening crunch!

But he didn’t. The piercing wail of the boy's mother somehow drowned out everything else. That's what made Ryan turn around. He didn't even see the crash, at first. All teenage Ryan saw was the mother standing on the sidewalk, clutching her face as she screamed with that exact same expression. It's stayed with him until this day.

Shane stopped rambling. He knelt down besides him on the grass. "Ryan?" he asked carefully. "Are you okay?"

Ryan just shook his head. How could an image get such a reaction out of him?

Shane looked helpless. "I'm so sorry, I swear I had no idea... Fuck, I was supposed to protect you. I hate seeing you upset, but I don't know how to help... God damn it!" Shane was yelling now. "Why do I have to be so bad at this stuff? I fucking suck!"

"Shane!" Ryan cried. That got his attention. The demon swallowed his self-loathing. "Just come here!"

"Umm..."

"Closer, Shane. Come on, closer." Shane tentatively edged forwards, bit by bit.

"But what do you want me to-?" Ugh. This was infuriating.

"Just..."

And with that, Ryan and Shane had an actual, bona-fide, couldn't be mistaken for anything else, hug for the first time.

Ryan threw himself into his arms, landing halfway onto his lap. Shane caught him gingerly. He’s always so careful with Ryan, so gentle. That exact opposite of what you’d expect from a demon.

“Wha-?”

”Shhh,” Ryan hushed, “Stop talking, please.”

“Okay,” Shane said quietly, “alright.” The man has probably never been hugged in his life, but fortunately, the desire to reach out for contact and connection is ingrained in everyone. Instinctual. Ryan rested his head on Shane’s shoulder, and Shane held Ryan tighter, and seeing that thing was almost worth it.

They stayed like that for a while.

Chapter Text

After whatever the fuck that was, the boys returned back to the factory. Neither brought up what happened there again. Ryan was grateful; he wasn’t sure how much he liked Hell anymore, and he was ready to go home. The boys basically acted like it hadn't happened, except for one difference: Shane was firm about sticking to Ryan's side now. And he never forgot to offer his arm.


A brunet demon with glasses and a beard passed by.

“Hey, Shane.”

“Sorry can’t talk; giving a student tour,” Shane tried to steer them away.

“What? You don’t give student tours…”

“Now I do!” Shane called back over his shoulder. Ugh, Ryan hates when Shane starts fast-walking, who does he think can keep up with those giraffe legs?!

“Wait a minute! Is that HIM?”

Busted. They froze. The demon marched up to them.

“What the fuck have you done, Shane? You know you’re not supposed to bring humans here.”

“Uh yeah, because he’s not a human? Duh? This is a potential intern from the university.”

The demon turned to Ryan. “What’s your name?”

“... Ryan.” Yup, definitely should've thought of fake names.

“Ryan?!” he exclaimed.

“RYAN!” Shane yelled in annoyance.

“Yeah, uh, I’m Ryan?” Ryan didn’t know how to play this game.

Shane groaned. “Call we all stop saying Ryan, now? And maybe speak ten times quieter.”

“You just said it,” the demon pointed out.

“I swear to God, Bakery…”

Ryan’s eyes lit up in recognition. “Oh, you’re Shane’s co-worker!” This time, Shane’s description was dead-on; "non-descript" really said it all.

Shane sighed. “Bront, meet Ryan. Ryan, Bront.”

“Really?” Bront asked indignantly, “You’re going to introduce me incorrectly to someone AGAIN?”

“No, no it’s okay,” Ryan tried to reduce the tension, “I’ll call you Brent.”

Shane had never looked so betrayed. Oh, come on. It’s not like Ryan snarled long live the prince of Hell and pushed him off a cliff.

Brent’s expression softened behind his thick glasses. “Hi, Ryan. I don’t blame any of this on you. But Shane, you know this is against the rules…”

“Wow, didn’t realize I was talking to Brochure.”

“I’m not a brochure! And you’re thinking of an employee handbook, dumbass.” Uh oh, looks like we've got a stickler over here. Maybe this is why Shane dislikes him.

“Um, are we going to get in trouble?” Ryan asked nervously.

Brent considered him for a moment. Ryan shifted uncomfortably, inching closer to his guardian demon.

“No,” he sighed finally. “It’s not your fault.”

“Hah, knew Beige wouldn’t have the spine-”

“Shut up, Shane!” Hasn’t the idiot ever heard of quitting while you’re ahead? Guess that'll be his next lesson. "Thanks Brent, we really appreciate it."

“I’m just gonna ignore him. It's nice to finally meet you, Ryan Bergara. You've done a good job with this one." He gestured at Shane, who might actually hurt himself if he tries to roll his eyes any harder. "What’s your sign?” Brent asked.

“Uh…” Ryan looked helplessly at Shane, “Is he hitting on me?”

“He better not be,” Shane growled, glaring at his co-worker.

Brent was unimpressed. "I know you're trying to impress Ryan, but can you tone down the macho bullshit? Thanks."

Shane turned pink. He's trying to impress me?

"No, Ryan, I'm not hitting on you. Astrology is an important part of our workplace culture here," Brent explained. "It informs everything we do."

"Even though it's dumb, pseudo-science bullshit," Shane muttered under his breath. This time, they both ignored him. Huh, Ryan never thought he'd see a demon pout. Hopefully, Shane's habit of dropping severed heads on people who were getting more of Ryan's attention wouldn't come into play here.

"Oh, okay. According to my birthday, I'm a Sagittarius. But I don't actually know what that means." Ryan was a Shaniac on this topic, but not as hostile. What's the harm in some silly fun?

Brent's jaw dropped.

"Holy shit. No way."

"Here we go," Shane said flatly.

"What?" Ryan asked, feeling self-conscious. It's never fun to be on the outside of an inside joke, but it's especially not fun when you're surrounded by demons, in a foreign realm you know nothing about.

"A Taurus and a Sagittarius. Well, I'll be damned." Brent looked back and forth between the two. "Congratulations, you two are soulmates."

What?! So the Zodiac is real??

Shane stiffened beside him.

"No, I'm being serious," Brent said, "You did it, Shane... You actually fucking did it. I can't believe you found him. This is amazing. He's going to set you on the right path; or actually, he's probably already started!" He then turned to Ryan apologetically. "This is it for you, buddy. You get who you get. Good luck with this one. You should do a better job than me, at least."

"Aww, you flatter me, Burger King." They paid him no mind. Ryan wondered if Shane was about to have his first temper tantrum. At least he'd learn what anger feels like.

Neither of the boys knew how to react. This is when your deflecting skills would come in handy, Shane. Call him a stupid name. Accuse him of being a serial killer. Anything, dumbass!

"... We have to go," Shane said finally. "Come on, Ryan."

And Ryan followed.


Ryan may have mentioned Brent wasn't that bad, and Shane definitely considered leaving Ryan in Hell.

Chapter Text

Shane said there wasn’t much left to see, but Ryan still wanted to see his desk before they left. (Shane insisted it’s a just a desk, but do any of us trust his judgement anymore?)

On the way, they passed a large group of interns, huddled together around something and speaking in low, excited tones.

“What are they looking at?” Ryan asked, when Shane ignored them. He got on his tip-toes to try to see past everyone's heads, but it was of no use. So Ryan let go of his friend’s arm and squeezed into the crowd.

“Ryan!” Shane hissed like an exasperated school field trip leader. “Ugh. Fine.” He resignedly followed, standing impatiently a good ten feet behind the onlookers. This was the first time he'd let Ryan go willingly.

“Excuse me, excuse me...” Ryan pushed past the interns as politely as he could.

“Is that really him?” A young, black woman/demon with braids asked curiously.

“I don’t know... I don’t think anyone’s actually seen him in person for a while...“ a red-headed man/demon responded.

“Is he just like a figurehead or something?” Someone else wondered, “How much work could he be doing if nobody actually sees him?”

Who are they talking about? Ryan finally reached the front of the audience, to see that everyone was craning their necks up at a massive painting. Ryan strained to see. Thankfully, Shane wasn’t here to tease Ryan about his height. He was currently sulking ten feet away.

“That could be exactly why no one sees him,” the first woman replied, “Maybe he’s just always doing work? Who’s going to question him, anyways? He's got all the influence around here.”

Lucifer? Oddly, Ryan was standing the closest out of everyone, and yet the painting seemed far away. Was this another illusion? He backed up a few feet, and it came into focus.

And there it was. Now Ryan understood why Shane had refused to come any closer, because a portrait of his dad was mounted on the wall.

The oil painting was strikingly out-of-place in a modern-looking office. Ryan wondered if it was mounted just a little too high on purpose, so the devil could leer down on all passerby. But looking closer, the devil wasn’t making eye contact at all.

The King of Hell was slumped against an ornate chair with golden accents, looking bored. Now Ryan knows where Shane gets his poor posture from. The devil was facing the viewer, but gazing out somewhere beyond the painting. A gilded, intricate frame wrapped around the portrait, which was undoubtedly designed to flatter its subject. The phrase “devilishly handsome” made sense now; who knew the devil was a salt-and-pepper fox? He resembled “the most interesting man in the world”, with fluffier hair and a pointed nose.

What do you think, should Ryan ditch Shane and upgrade to the King of Hell?

Just kidding, of course. At this point, Ryan can't get Shane out of his head, even if he wanted to.

Although Ryan was, admittedly, no art connoisseur, he still found himself captivated by the scene before him. The painting effortlessly drew your eye towards its subject by bathing the devil’s face sunlight, contrasting with his dimly lit study. Ryan imagined the artist standing next to a window on an arid summer's day. The glow made Lucifer holy; a halo around a disinterested angel. An angel dressed as an esteemed military general, for a war that apparently never happened. Maybe he just has a flair for theatrics, similar to the demon waiting impatiently a few feet away. Ryan signaled for Shane to wait; he was almost done...

Six buttons adored the navy jacket. Ryan jumped when one blinked back at him. Oh God, those were eyes. There were definitely six eyes staring right at him. They followed wherever Ryan moved, contrasting starkly with the eyes of Lucifer, who was either unaware of or unaffected by his young audience.

The interns began pointing out details Ryan hadn't noticed. The portrait's layout drew the eye gradually outwards, in a sort of spiral. First, Ryan spotted the serpents sewn into the sleeves. The closest snake was coiled unnaturally into a strange symbol near his wrist: ☥.

The King resided in an ornate chair that took up most of the left of the frame, leaving space for a small wooden table on the right behind him. On the table rested a bronze bowl of six blood-red apples. A glass vase of white lilies sat beside it. But there was something underneath... Ryan had to back up to see an old-fashioned globe, smashed to pieces on the floor. It was as if it just rolled off the table by accident. But paintings don't move.

A golden chandelier dangled from the ceiling, glinting like a lone earring. Huh, that’s weird. Out of the six wax candles, only one wasn't lit. Not a detail you’d think a painter of this talent would forget. A fireplace smoldered on the far wall, illuminating the ram head mounted overhead. It's sharp horns coiled outwards, with one seemingly pointing to where Lucifer was gazing. Ryan’s always been creeped out by rams' pupils, did they have to be rectangular?

These objects all circled a scarlet carpet with gold threading in an upside-down star. Yes, there was a pentagram in the center of the room. Guess it wasn't actually a devil's trap, considering it was in the devil's office?

Look in the mirror, an intern whispered to her friend, What do you see?

The mirror? And then Ryan saw it, mounted on the far wall. He squinted until his own face squinted back at him. It was as if Ryan was in the room. A room that looked exactly the same, except the white lilies were blackened and withered, silently weeping shriveled pedals onto the table. Aaaaand that’s enough. Ryan didn't need to know what else was reflected in that mirror. He left the crowd to rejoin his friend.

Shane was leaning sullenly against the wall, with his arms crossed. Ryan smirked. Grumpy was cute on him.

"I know, it's the greatest painting you've ever seen, Leonardo who? Yaddah yaddah." Shane must be so sick of all the comments by now.

"Eh, it was just alright." That earned Ryan a small smile. He knew Shane wanted to leave, but he couldn't stop himself from asking just one question: "Is he... really like that?" Shane sighed and finally acknowledged the painting. With his freakish height, he could easily see over the crowd.

Shane gave his father a long, hard look.

"No," he said simply, "Not at all. Let's go."

And with that, Ryan resolved to let it go. No curiosity was worth seeing that expression on his friend's face. As they walked away, Ryan realized the difference between Shane and his father: Lucifer didn't have gold flecks in his eyes.

Chapter Text

Ryan had officially had enough™, so the boys headed back to the scare floor to find Ryan’s door.

“Y’know, we did good today!” Shane said gleefully, “Aside from Bourbon, no one even noticed-”

“IS THAT A HUMAN?!”

Ryan jumped unnaturally high (the lack of gravity probably had something to do with it). Shane swore under his breath. A young woman with green eyes and brown, wavy hair had blocked their path. She had a friendly face, or a face that would’ve been friendly if she wasn’t glaring daggers at Ryan's tour guide.

Speaking of, Shane was taking way too long to respond to that accusation. “Um, hi Katie. I guess he’s technically human, but-”

Katie confronted Ryan. “What are you?”

“… American?” Shane facepalmed. Understandable. That was probably the worst response Ryan could’ve come up with. Should’ve said Canadian.

Katie turned back to Shane.“You’re coming to my office. And YOU, stay here." She dug her phone out of her pocket. "I’m calling in someone to come get you.”

Come get me?

“Oh Hell, no. He stays with me,” Shane said firmly, moving closer to Ryan.

“Madej, did you forget who your boss is?”

“Did you forget who my father is?” shot back Draco Malfoy. Uh, Shane Madej.

“What does he have to do with any of this?”

“He… approved this. Yeah. This was his idea.” For a demon, Shane’s a terrible liar.

“You really expect me to believe that?”

“You really want to bother him to find out?” Shane challenged. Ryan doubted Lucifer would make time for a high-level manager, considering he doesn’t make time for his own son. But the threat was enough. With a groan, Katie turned on her heels and stalked off, apparently expecting them to follow.

Oh, crap. I have no idea what punishment looks like in Hell. Or maybe I do. Fuck, fuck, fuck.

Shane noticed Ryan’s terrified expression. “Hey, it’s okay,” he said lowly. “You’ll be fine, buddy. She’s probably going to have you wait outside, but I’ll just be a couple feet away. You can yell if you need me. But you won’t have to, because no one’s going to bother you,” he assured.

“You’re, um, getting better at this comforting thing,” Ryan replied weakly. Shane gave him a quick wink. That's right, Shane Madej gave him a fucking wink. Ryan couldn't believe it, either.

They’d arrived at her office, which was disturbingly similar to Ryan’s middle-school principal’s office. With an apologetic smile, Shane was gone. Ryan was alone.

Ryan thought back to the last time he was outside a principal’s office, snickering with Ricky about their latest dumbassery. They would await their fate together, musing about how art is subjective. Not everyone’s going to appreciate the phallic spray-paint on the bathroom stalls, but that doesn’t make it any less magnificent. That week of lunch detention was worth it.

Simpler times. Much simpler than this.

As Ryan sat down on the cold, hard bench, something occurred to him.

Shane had never assured that he would be okay.


A significant amount of time had passed, but Ryan still had no idea was going on. There was some kind of argument going on inside, but it was too muffled to decipher and Ryan couldn’t see through the frosted window. Was Shane getting disciplined? Fired? Something even worse? Ryan’s creative imagination was no asset here.

Oh, no. What if Ryan had gotten Shane in trouble with his father? Shane had lied for him, violated company policies, brought him to restricted areas, and then claimed it was all with Lucifer’s permission. From everything Ryan had seen, he had an inkling that disappointing his dad would hurt Shane much, much worse than anything his boss could do.

Ryan put his head in his hands. How could he have been so selfish? Shane never even wanted to do this in the first place. He said it was a bad idea from the start, but Ryan didn't listen. Or didn't want to listen. Who gave Ryan the right to teach Shane how to be a friend? He was a pretty shitty one himself.

The argument inside grew more heated. Both voices echoed off the walls. But Ryan still couldn’t make out what they were saying. Maybe it’s more Hell magic. Ryan tried to quell the impending panic attack. He could definitely use a distraction.

Just then, the demon with short, dark hair from earlier walked by.

“Um, hey,” Ryan greeted shyly. She stopped.

“Oh, you’re Shane’s student from earlier, right?”

“Yup, I’m Ryan. Sorry, I didn’t catch your name.”

She shook his hand, clearly swallowing her annoyance at being interrupted again for the sake of politeness. “So, do you have any questions or…? Where is Shane, anyways?”

“He got, um, busy.” Definitely wasn’t yelling at his boss ten feet away.

“Figures.” ???

“Oh, is he always busy here?”

“That’s a nice way of saying it.”

“What do you mean, exactly?” So Ryan wants a little juicy gossip on his crush. Sue him.

“Before I get into it... is he your friend?” Jen asked tentatively.

“Yes…” Ryan should be careful with his words here. “But I’m really curious about what he’s like at work. I won’t get mad or tell him anything you say.”

The demon leaned back against the wall. “First off, I’m surprised he has a friend. How did you manage that?”

“It wasn’t easy.” But Ryan doesn't need to tell you that.

“More like impossible.”

“Oh,” It's hard for Ryan to understand why anyone wouldn’t like his best friend. (Don’t tell Shane they’re best friends; the idiot isn’t there yet.) “I guess his brand of humor isn’t for everyone…” Even though he regularly makes Ryan cry with laughter.

Jen frowned. “He’s funny?”

“Um, yeah? He’s hilarious. Usually in a dry, sarcastic way.”

Jen looked to the side as she thought it over. “I guess I’ve heard him be sarcastic a few times, but only towards Brent.”

Did Shane just have a separate “professional” personality? “I don’t understand, then. Why don’t people like him? Is he a jerk or something?” Ryan couldn’t imagine Shane actually being mean. Petty, absolutely. But not cruel.

“No, it’s not that,” Jen clarified. “At the very worst, Shane’s just a little entitled because of who his father is. We just don’t know him. At all. Most demons think he’s weird. The guy’s quiet, and he purposely sits alone at lunch. On breaks, he just reads or watches that creepy spider cam.”

“Oh...”

“It’s not our fault,” Jen replied, “He’s pushed everyone away. In the beginning, a lot of employees actually had crushes on him, because he’s “The Prince of Hell” and a cutie. But Shane gives everyone the cold shoulder, for no reason. He’s rejected every single invitation for our after-work events. We don’t bother inviting him to things anymore. It’s not like he’s cared about getting to know any of us, either.”

Well, that hurt Ryan’s heart a little. (A lot.)

“That’s sad to hear. He really is a great guy, I promise. But he’s a little shy,” Not a word Ryan would’ve used to describe Shane before this moment. “He’s been trying to get better with that, though.”

Jen shrugged.

“Could you... do me a favor?” Ryan asked, “Can you please invite him to the next party, or after-work get together? Or anything. Try to encourage him to come; he might surprise you.”

“Yeah. I don’t really see a point, but sure. If it’ll make you happy.”

“It would,” Ryan assured, “It really, really would.”

She gave him a small smile. “Alright, I gotta get back to work. But it was nice talking to you, Ryan. I hope you get that internship.”

And she was off, leaving Ryan to stew over what he’d just learned. He thought back to who they’d met on the tour. They quite literally ran into Steven, and Roz only called them over because she was pissed about that paperwork. And Shane had to go grab Jen.

Aw, man. Ryan finally realized what was bothering him so much. It was an active workplace, with tons of demons bustling around, and the boys certainly got their share of curious looks. But no one had come up to them. Not a single co-worker had initiated a conversation, just for the sake of conversation. It was a shock, because Ryan had pictured Shane as the “class-clown” at work, or the eccentric one who loves to talk about the latest unsolved mystery. Or at the very least, the strange but soft-hearted man who loved sharing about his pet spiders. It hurt to hear Shane’s wonderful quirks described in a negative light.

The most heartbreaking part? Not one demon bothered to say “hi” to Shane as they passed by. It was like Shane didn’t even exist. No one… except Brent. Who Shane clearly loathed, for some inexplicable reason.

And there's the sad truth. Shane Madej didn’t have a single friend at work. Or friend in the world, other than Ryan.

Ryan’s going to change that.

Ryan is going to help Shane make his second friend.


Shane came out two minutes later, breathing heavily and flushed bright red. Ryan leapt up.

“Oh my god, Shane, I am so sorry. Did she discipline you? Fire you? Something worse??”

“What?” Shane shook his head, avoiding eye contact. “No, of course not. I just can't participate in free pretzel day this month.”

“… Then why do you look so upset?”

“What is this, the inquisition?!” Shane thundered. “I JUST REALLY LIKE PRETZELS, ALRIGHT?"

Whoa. That was quite a reaction. "Um, okay?"

"What do you mean, okay? Why wouldn't I like pretzels? They’re a great snack, and they ran out of cinnamon ones last time, and they’re the only ones that are the perfect combination of salty and sweet, and now I'm not even going to get- No, you know what? I don’t need to justify this. God. Let’s go.”

The fuck is wrong with this guy? Like, do you understand why he gets so unnecessarily defensive sometimes? Whatever. Ryan’s not touching that one with a ten-foot pole. He’s glad he’s not in trouble, at least.

Shane still offered his arm before he marched off.

Chapter Text

“ALRIGHT, FINE. I ADMIT IT. I BROUGHT A HUMAN INTO INFERNO!” Shane bellowed.

“Okay, just take a seat and we can talk about this.”

“I’LL GIVE YOU A FULL CONFESSION RIGHT NOW. YOU WANT IT IN WRITING?” Shane snatched a piece of paper off Katie’s desk, looking around wildly for a pen.

“That’s… really not necessary.”

“SO YOU CAN GO AHEAD AND DISCIPLINE ME, FIRE ME, WHATEVER YOU HAVE TO DO, JUST LEAVE RYAN BERGARA ALONE!”

“Shane! Will you just fucking breathe for a minute?” But Shane was adamant.

“KEEP ME HERE IF YOU MUST! LOCK ME UP! I WON’T TRY TO RUN, AS LONG AS YOU LET MY FRIEND GO FIRST!”

“Shane, the closest thing we have to a “jail cell” is the daycare…”

“YOU CAN EVEN CALL MY FATHER OVER! I’LL GIVE YOU HIS STUPID PHONE NUMBER THAT DOESN’T WORK!” Shane pulled out his phone and started scrolling through his contacts. Was it listed under “My Shitty Dad” or “Dad, My Shitty”?

“GODDAMMIT, MADEJ!” Katie slammed her hand down on the table. “LISTEN TO ME!”

“NO!” Shane’s never been so worked up before. Never really had a reason to be. “LISTEN TO ME, KATIE! THESE HUMANS AREN’T AS BAD AS WE THINK! THEY’RE NOT ALL THE SAME!”

“WILL YOU STOP YELLING FOR JUST A-”

“I WON’T STOP YELLING UNTIL YOU UNDERSTAND! RYAN BERGARA IS THE NICEST, MOST GENUINE BEING I’VE EVER COME ACROSS! HE WOULD NEVER TELL A SOUL ABOUT HELL AND I TRUST HIM WITH MY LIFE AND-”

Katie stood up from her desk, knocking her chair back. “FOR THE LOVE OF CHRIST, SHANE! I'M JUST BANNING YOU FROM FREE PRETZEL DAY THIS MONTH!”

“… Oh.” Whoops. See, Shane’s told you these emotion things aren’t helpful.

Katie rubbed her temples. “Nice job, you’ve given me a headache. I’ve been trying to say you can take the human home right after we’re done here. And if you want to bring him again, you have to get permission next time. My permission.”

“That’s… extremely fair.”

His boss huffed. “Yeah, it is, isn’t it? You’ve known me for years, Shane. I’m a little offended you’d think I’d hurt a complete stranger over something like this.”

What was that phrase Ryan taught him? “I’m sorry?”

She raised her eyebrows, a silent go on.

“Um, I honestly don’t know why I flipped out.” Shane whacked his noggin. “And of course you’d never hurt Ryan, or anybody. I don’t know why I thought that… I guess I got overprotective? He’s just so small, and trusting, and he’s pretty out of his element here…”

“Fine, whatever.” Katie glanced at her finger nails. “Just try not to let your little crush get in the way of your job, yeah?”

???

Shane could feel his face getting red again. “He’s not my… I’m not…” He stopped himself. Ryan said something about quitting while he’s ahead earlier. “Thank you. Can I leave now?”

Katie gestured towards the exit.

Shane stopped at the doorway, nervously tapping his fingers on the frame. “Um, since I apologized, could I possibly still get a free pretzel?” He didn’t even get a cinnamon one last time! Buffalo took the last one, and refused to share. After all the things Shane’s done for him.

“GET OUT, SHANE!”

“Getting out!” Shane said quickly.

Hanging his head, he took the walk of shame back to Ryan.


Later that night, Shane laid awake for hours, cringing at himself. Is this what insomnia’s like? He turned over and over in bed while that embarrassing scene played over and over in his mind. Apparently, you can have nightmares when you’re awake, too.

Chapter Text

The next night, Shane knocked on Ryan’s door around 9pm. (He’s learned knocking is more polite than busting in unexpectedly.)

Ryan looked up from his journal, quickly stowing it behind his pillow. He’s still writing that?

"Hey, Ryan!"

“Oh, hey, Shane. What’re you doing here?”

???

Shane thought this was just what they did now?

“Um, I guess I don’t have a particular reason? Do you want me to go, or...?”

“Well, yeah.” Ouch. That hurt more than when spider 666 bit him. Adolescents, am I right? Children are angels until the hormones kick in.

“Oh, so you don't want to hang out? That’s fair..." Shane said dejectedly, stuffing his hands in his pockets. "I understand, I’ve been bothering you a lot lately. Um, good luck with your journal...” Guess Shane will go annoy Button. He hasn't played a prank on him in a while.

Ryan ripped a blank page from his notebook, crumpled it up, and tossed it at Shane's head. Bonk! “No, you dipshit!”

“Hey!” Shane picked it up and whipped it back at Ryan, missing by a good number of feet. It's not his fault; his target was tiny.

“Shane, of course I want you. Uh, to hang out with me. I want you to hang out with me. But you can't."

"Why not?" Shane definitely didn't whine. Was Richard coming over? Were they going to watch basketball?

"Because you have to finish your paperwork." Oh.

"... I don't like you anymore," Shane lied.

"Touché", Ryan lied back. "Now, go be a good demon!”

"That's a total oxymoron, but whatever. Bye, human."


Shane didn't return that night. Or the next two nights.

Because Roz really needed that paperwork. It was going to take him a while to finish, even with the "do not disturb" sign he taped to his back. And he had to edit when he was done, too.


The next night, after the Amelia Earhart documentary Shane chose, the human started being weird.

"So, Shane... That office trip was really fun."

"Yeah? Glad you liked it." Shane reached over Ryan to grab his hot chocolate from the table.

"Everyone seemed really nice."

"Uh, I guess? They're tolerable. Except Beard."

"Hah. That's a good one, 'cause he has a beard. I get it... haha..."

Shane narrowed his eyes. "Why are you being weird? I don't need your pity laughs, Bergara."

Ryan sat back against the couch. "Alright, that might've been a pity laugh. Sorry. I'm just trying to bring up a topic that might be a little sensitive for you..." Here we go again.

"Listen, I don't care what you or anyone else says, I can definitely rock a turtleneck!"

"What? No! You're cute in turtlenecks."

HE THINKS I'M CUTE???

Shane's brain might've imploded. So much so that he missed the next few sentences.

"... I guess what I'm trying to say is, I'm worried you might be a little lonely."

"Lonely?" Shane frowned. "I don't know what you mean. I'm surrounded by demons all the time, so much so that I had to tape a “do not disturb” sign on my back-"

Ryan chuckled. "You did what?"

"-Plus, I have 1,367 children to care for, so excuse me for not prioritizing my social life."

"That's not..." Ryan started again. "Shane, did you know you can be lonely, even if you're surrounded by people? It can happen to anyone. That was me the past couple months, before you showed up. Befriending you gave me the courage to step out of my comfort zone and get to know people at work. I'm a lot happier now. What would you think about trying that?"

Shane raised his hand. "Hold up. Humans befriend their co-workers? On purpose?" It'd taken Shane over a year to finally get everyone off his back with the small talk and the "come sit with us at lunch" and the stupid invitations to the stupid work picnics. And to lose all that progress? There's nothing more irritating than dragging yourself to work at the ass-crack of dawn on a Monday, only to have that peppy co-worker start annoying the fuck out of you. You know which one Shane's talking about.

"Well, yeah. Look at it like this: most people, or demons, spend at least half their waking hours at work. Wouldn't you want to spend that time with people you enjoy?"

"Are you trying to ask for a job at Inferno?" As the prince of Hell, Shane certainly does have an "in"...

"No!" Ryan groaned. "I'm trying to say you need to learn how to make friends, dude."

Shane scoffed. "It's not about learning. I can make friends; I just don't want them."

"Why not?"

"Uh, because I already have you?"

"Buddy, this is going to blow your mind, but you can have more than one."

"I don't want any more, Ryan!" Shane protested. "I just don't like demons. Or people. Or anyone, really. You all kinda suck? Also, while we're on this lovely topic of critiquing each other, I think you should learn to cook more than one meal. Nachos aren't a food group, you know.”

Ryan didn't take the bait. "Shane, I'm saying all this because I care about you. I want you to be happy."

And with that statement, Shane accidentally threw his hot chocolate across the room. It splattered everywhere, but thankfully the mug didn't break. "WHOA! How did that happen? Just stay here, I'll go get something to clean it up!"

"Shane!" Ryan called after him. But Shane really needed to find those paper towels.

When he came back, Ryan was sitting with his arms crossed.

Shane started wiping up the mess. "Erm, I'm really sorry about the floor..."

Ryan rolled his eyes. "I'm not mad about that, idiot."

Oh, no. Ryan's mad at him? Shane can't lose the only friend he has (and needs, thank you very much).

"Alright, alright, I'm sorry. What can I do to make it up to you?"

"I want you to make another friend."

Ugh. Shane could feel himself giving in. "Just one?" he asked suspiciously.

"Yeah. As a start." And there it was. "But don't worry, I'll help you come up with a plan."

"A plan?!" Shane stood up indignantly. "I don't need your help! I could make a friend, if I actually wanted to. I could make so many friends. In fact, I could make friends in my sleep."

"Oh yeah?" Ryan challenged. "How about you prove it, big guy?" Shit. Now he's gotta either backtrack or commit. Of course, the idiot chose the wrong option.

"I WILL!" Shane retorted heatedly, "I am a joy to be around! I am the friendliest friend that..." He tried to compose himself. "Alright, this looks like it's all clean. I actually have to go, Ryan. My other friends deserve attention, too."

With his nose in the air, Shane marched out of Ryan's apartment to go see his other mates. Who don't exist. Shhh.

But it's fine. Demons were desperate to befriend Shane when he started at Inferno. Yeah, he might have to talk and smile and pretend to care about baby showers, but it wouldn't kill him. There's no way anyone would reject him. Shane's confident in his likability. He's downright lovable. You agree with that, don't you? You don't think anyone would turn him down, right? They'd have to be crazy...

Once Shane was back at his den, he hunched over his laptop and started Googling. How hard could ~making a friend~ really be?

Chapter Text

WikiHow to Make a Friend

1. Build Up Your Confidence. The first step in making new friends is becoming friends with yourself! High self-esteem attracts others, while low self-esteem can push them away by not allowing them to see your true, sparkling personality! Insecurity can make you seem withdrawn, anti-social, and poor at communicating, even if that’s not true. Remind yourself of all your positive attributes. List them, if necessary. Remember, you are perfect just the way you are!

Who wrote this freaking article, Bruno Mars? As if Shane needs to be reminded of his perfection. And withdrawn, anti-social, and a poor communicator? Shane snorted. Good luck to whoever that is. Next.

2. Don’t Subconsciously Shut Out Others. If you send the message that you’re open to making new friends, others will reciprocate! There could be many ways you’re currently deterring others from getting to know you. Make a conscious effort to maintain eye contact, smile, and show interest in the lives of others. Avoid crossing your arms and legs.

What kind of idiot would push others away if that’s exactly the opposite of what he wants? He probably needs his own personal WikiHow page. Hah.

And when Shane tried to smile and show interest, he ended up locked in a 45 minute conversation with Qezza, where she shared several ~fascinating~ stories about how she overcame her fear of water as a child, and then her fear of balloons (???) as a teenager, and is currently working on her fear of accidentally oversharing. She’s doing great.

Next.

3. Overcome Your Fear of Rejection. It’s painful, but it happens to us all at some point. It simply means you and this other person didn’t have the right “fit.” Remind yourself that it’s for the best. You wouldn’t want to be friends with someone who doesn't want to be friends with you, right? Find those who understand just how amazing you really are.

Fear of rejection? Psh. Some people have issues. Can they just get to the practical advice, already? Oh, here we go:

4. Make New Friends Through Current Friends. Try spending time with a current friend and one of their friends. You probably have a lot in common already!

Full offense, but Shane would literally rather die than be friends with Ricky. Next.

5. Join a Sport.

Rather die. Next.

6. Get in the Habit of Saying Yes. Be open to new experiences. You never know what you’ll discover about yourself, or who you might meet along the way! Challenge yourself to say “yes” more often, and you won’t miss out on valuable opportunities to form new relationships.

Never, ever do this. Learn from an old demon’s mistakes. Because now, Shane is stuck on the godforsaken party planning committee. He’s spent the past hour and a half calling companies to ask for millennial pink streamers, because apparently regular pink isn’t good enough for Janet’s freaking baby shower. Next.

7. Unplug Technology and Spend Time in the Real World.

Check your damn privilege WikiHow, some of us have children to care for. Shane’s NOT turning off his spider cam. Next.

8. Compliment Others as a Way to Start a Conversation. Remember to be genuine!

Oh, okay. This seems reasonable. Maybe Shane could try this one with Roz. The last time he tried complimenting her, it was just a way of getting out of trouble. He’ll be genuine this time!



… It didn’t work. Can you explain to Shane why she didn’t appreciate, “Hey Roz, you’ve been doing a much better job at covering that bald spot lately! I can't even see it at all when you turn to the left!” Like, that was honest, HEARTFELT praise. Maybe Roz should stop being so withdrawn, anti-social, and poor at communicating. Hmph.

9. Look at People’s Feet. Eye contact is important, but don’t forget about body language! Observe others at social events. If a group is standing in a circle with their feet pointed inwards, they probably aren’t open to new members. Conversely, a group with toes pointed outwards is likely to welcome you into conversation!

See, this is why Google is so great, because Shane would’ve never thought you’d need to stare at other demons’ feet to befriend them. Before reading this article, he’d think that was weird and disconcerting, but what does Shane know? Let’s give this one a try…

 



... Don’t try the feet thing. Ever.

Just don't.

10. Make the First Move. Don’t be shy! Find someone you’re interested in getting to know better, and casually ask if they'd like to get lunch with you, or maybe coffee sometime. It could be the beginning of a lifelong friendship!

Shane is going to have to… ask someone out on a date? Oh boy. Last resort, definitely last resort.


Sigh. Looks like Shane maybe, kind of, desperately needs Ryan's help.

In the meantime, he'll look up how to pretend to have ice powers like Elsa (with pictures).

Chapter Text

Okay, Shane knows he said he was going to ask for Ryan's help last chapter. And he was. But the human was currently sitting across the table from him, smirking.

"Oh, by the way, hey Mr. Personality, how's that making friends thing going?" Ryan gestured with his fork before digging back into his pasta. "D'you think you might need some help?" Undeserved pride flared up in Shane's chest. He pulverized the innocent bread roll he was grasping.

"Absolutely not! These things take time, Ryan. A friendship formed in a day would be superficial at best. I'm in the process of forming several deep relationships." Ryan's mouth twitched.

"Mhmm." Wait, the human wasn't supposed to see right through him. None of you are supposed to see through him. Back off!

"Okay, maybe the first few attempts didn't work out as well as I planned. But Shane Alexander Madej doesn't give up!"

"Shane Alexander Madej doesn't know when to give up," Ryan corrected, "And should probably stop talking in third person."

"Hmph." Shane pushed a meatball around with his fork. He knew he was out of his league here. That much was painfully clear. But he didn't know how to explain why this mattered so much.

"Hey pouty, you wanna pass the parmesan?" Shane silently handed it over. Their fingers brushed softly, leaving Shane's hand glittering with more of that human stuff.

"Ryan?" His friend looked up, surprised by the soft tone. "I don't understand... since when is not giving up a bad thing?" If good old dad taught him anything, it was perseverance. Failure wasn't an option.

Ryan frowned and rubbed his chin. "Well, actually, I don't think not giving up is the real issue here. It's more about you refusing to accept help. It's okay, you know. I'm just teasing you. Everyone needs help sometimes. I might even assistance with my cooking, as you so kindly pointed out the other day."

Shane's mouth twitched. "You do."

"Okay, let's go with that. See, I could learn on my own, and try to do everything from scratch, and refuse to watch any tutorials or ask for anyone's help, but that wouldn't go so great."

"No, it wouldn't," Shane agreed. This apartment had already nearly been set on fire once.

"I'd probably get the hang of it. Eventually. After a ton of pain and suffering and mistakes. But why put myself through that when I can just ask someone for help? I hate to tell you this buddy, but you tend to make things way harder than they need to be."

The human had a point there. Shane laughed, self-deprecatingly. "That's my specialty. Want me to teach you how? ... But alright, I get what you're saying. But let me try one last time." Ryan agreed.

The conversation got lighter from there, with the boys arguing passionately about the Mandela Effect. Let's settle this once and for all: do YOU remember Pikachu's tail ever being black, or has it always been yellow?

Ryan kept up that effortless wheeze, but the jokes were strained on Shane's part. The thing about being hilarious is you end up involuntarily cast as a full-time comedian. Even when you're not up for it. Even when things really don't seem that funny.

Shane took the long way home, hoping the walk would bring some clarity.

He figured it out after he tripped over his own stupid feet on the sidewalk, skidding his kneecap on the pavement. Ouch. Blood trickled down his knee as he massaged his left ankle. Yup, definitely rolled it a bit. And there were three blocks to go. Shane could use some help getting up. And he wished he had someone to lean on while he hobbled back to his den, swearing under his breath the whole way. Shane's never been good at wrapping bandages by himself, either.

But no one was there.

And no one was coming.

And that's the thing, Ryan, Shane thought as he shakily stood up, This is just how things are. He winced as he put the smallest amount of pressure on his ankle. Doesn’t it hurt enough?

Chapter Text

Alright, so Googling “how to make a friend” wasn’t that helpful. But Shane was intrigued by that last step: Make the First Move! Maybe everyone else was just shy? He typed "make the first move for beginners" and began his quest.

Shane was more careful with his search this time. He didn’t just go with the first website he saw. Most of the websites encouraged direct, honest communication, but Shane’s not about that life. Instead, he found this awesome guide for gauging whether someone is interested. And you don’t even have to do it in person! Simple, but genius. All you have to do is get a piece of paper, and write out something that looks a little like this:

Do You Like Me?

🔲 Yes :)

🔲 No :(

🔲 Maybe :/

And then Shane just folded it up and signed his name. Once he gets the responses back, he can go from there. Then he won’t have to waste time with anyone who’s not interested. (Wasn’t that a step?)

He spent the next evening following the instructions to a tee, making liberal use of his new glitter gel pens, scented markers, and emoji stickers. Damn, sometimes Shane forgets what an artist he is, in every sense of the word. The best part? Once he gets his “yes” responses back, he can shove them all in Ryan Bergara’s face! Gently.

He walked into work the next day with a secret stash of friendship invitations in his pocket, ready to be delivered.


Attempt #1

Shane's always thought Jen was cool. He liked her laid-back, no bullshit attitude. And she was sarcastic enough to keep up with his witty banter. Hence, she's his first victim.

Friend. He means friend.

Jen's workspace wasn't too far from Shane's, which offered the perfect way to lowkey view the results after he ~subtly~ dropped a note on her desk. He waited a couple minutes, pretending to pay attention to the mandatory sensitivity training video on his computer monitor. Shane is sensitive as fuck, so it wasn't directed at him, anyways.

And... here comes the moment! Jen yawned as she slumped on her chair, taking off her snapback and tossing it on her desk. Right over the note. Dang. But she had to see it eventually.

Shane's co-workers are used to his general weirdness, so he can get away with a lot. No one really watches what he does anyways, unless it's Steven during audit season, when he bounces around the office like a kangaroo being pursued by the IRS. But this time, Jen unfortunately did notice Shane watching her like someone who's definitely not a creep. He tried to smile and wave. His co-worker awkwardly returned the gesture, before shifting her chair away from him.

... Shane deserved that.

But then, from his front seat view of Jen's Ruggirello back, Shane witnessed a horrific sight:

Jen was rummaging through all the papers in her vicinity, clearly looking for something. She grunted in frustration. In the process, she accidentally swept the note off the desk. And into the shredder.

Shane could only watch in dismay as his friendship invitation was shredded to pieces, along with his hopes and dreams.


Attempt #2

Alright, victim/friend #2. Shane doesn't know Andrew that well, but as a fellow quiet white guy who doesn't participate in anything, Shane felt a certain kinship with him.

Making absolutely sure there weren’t any paper shredders in the vicinity, Shane casually dropped a note on his desk. It was a little further from where he worked, so Shane hung around the water cooler, like the thirsty bitch he is. The annoying part was demons kept coming up to him and talking to him and inviting him to things. God. With all this chatter distracting him, Shane's never going to make any friends. Fortunately, it didn't take too long for Andrew to return from his break.

He picked up the note, looking confused.

"Um, did someone's kid leave their artwork here?" he called out. Everyone in the vicinity shook their heads. Andrew cautiously started unfolding. "From the look of these drawings, they can't be older than 10..."

Now, that's just insulting.

"Oh wait, I think there's a name on the back..." Andrew squinted at Shane's handwriting. "Shane Madej?"

Shane walked over and snatched it out of Andrew's hand, crumpling it in his fist. The other man looked taken aback at the sudden violence.

"I didn't mean it. It was just a joke," Shane grouched. Andrew was perplexed.

"Ha ha? I don't get it..."

"Forget it," Shane grumbled. Well, that was embarrassing. He'd spent a lot of time on that one, too. He used his best smiley stickers! Shane hopes you never have to understand the plight of an unappreciated artist; it's a terrible burden to bare.

Shane walked into Bulbasaur as he stormed out.

"Hey, what's up with those notes you've been leaving on everyone's desks?"

"THEY DO NOT CONCERN YOU, BOLLYWOOD!" Shane bellowed, shoving the papers deeper in his pockets as he passed by.

Bed and Breakfast held his hands up. "Jeez, okay. Fine. It was just a question..."

"A stupid question!" Shane stupidly retorted over his shoulder. Usually, he has better comebacks, but he's a bit flustered today. Besides, he's not that desperate yet. Bracelet's ideal hang out would consist of face masks and tarot card readings. Barf.


Attempt #3

Shane lit the office on fire.

Just a little! Accidentally!

Technically, it wasn't even Shane's fault. But he was far too noble to hurl Steven under the bus. You don't do that to potential friends, right? Also, Shane didn't think it was a good look to call out his manager for violating office policy.

Okay, Shane will back up a bit.

First off, you're not supposed to have candles at the office. Isn't that a basic rule at, like, every workplace? Now, of course, Shane never wants to be a stickler like Britain's Got Talent, but even he has to admit there's a good reason for this rule.

Anyways, Steven Freaking Lim's desk was covered in candles, because of course it was. Strange little wax cheeseburgers and dumplings and pizzas. Don't ask Shane to explain, because he can't. At least they didn't smell like food; more like little fairies flitting through a flower field, right before the whole thing explodes from a nuke.

Shane knows what you're wondering. How on earth could this have happened? It just did, okay? The thing is, when you're trying to be sneaky, you have to be subtle. So when Shane crossed Steven's desk, he dropped the note without slowing down or really watching what he was doing. Unknowingly, he bypassed the small fire he ignited. But don't worry, he was alerted to it five minutes later by an anguished scream:

"MY PAPERWORK!!!"

Steven clutched his head in distress as his day's progress (and Shane's remaining hopes and dreams) went up in flames. And then, Roz busted out of nowhere, wielding a heavy-duty fire extinguisher. The woman certainly doesn't hesitate, as demonstrated by the foam coating everyone in the near vicinity after she sprayed it fucking everywhere. It did the trick. Once the smoke cleared, Steven's desk was only slightly charred and dilapidated. His paperwork, well, that was a goner. Shane mentally apologized as he carefully backed away. Right into Katie.

"WHO DID THIS?!" she thundered as she marched up to the fragrant wreckage. Everyone gave her a blank look.

Please don't tell her. Please. At this rate, Shane's never going to get another pretzel.

Steven vehemently defended himself, stressing how he's always so careful with his candles and this has never, ever happened before, and-

"I don't want to hear it! Get rid of those candles now!"

So yeah, friendship with Steven was probably a lost cause. Too bad. The man currently weeping into his damaged property is genuinely a nice guy.

Anyways.


Attempt #4

Shane is an idiot. He could've just put the notes in everyone's mailboxes this whole time. After he figured this out, he spent a good five minutes sitting at his desk, staring off into space and questioning his life’s choices and how it all could have led up to this. Then he got over it. He just had to be dramatic first.

Shane crossed out Brant's name on his mailbox, snickering as he replaced it with “Bob the Builder." He slipped his notes into the remaining mailboxes.

And now, we wait.









... ALL SHANE GOT BACK WAS A STACKFUL OF MAYBE'S.

Crammed into his stupid mailbox, along with 75 passive-aggressive reminders from that bitch Sallie Mae. The only “yes” was from Stephanos. Who keeps making bedroom eyes at him from across the breakroom. Dear Neptune. Shane shoved his face deeper in his NASA magazine, wishing he could disappear.

Why on Earth can't these demons commit???


"Oh, no..." Ryan shuffled through the crumpled pieces of paper. "Shane, this isn't how you make a friend! This is how you ask someone out! In middle school!"

"What?! I clearly wasn't asking romantically. I said like, not like-like!" Ryan facepalmed.

"Alright. It’s still a little early for this lesson, but looks like we have no choice... I have to start teaching you that there's a difference between friends and..."

Shane stiffened. Ryan noticed.

"And-friends-who-kiss," He rushed out. "Similar concept, with some key differences."

"Like... kissing?" Shane asked slowly. He was certainly picturing... something. Why did he feel like the human was trying to say something without saying something?

Ryan rocked on his heels, blushing slightly. "Yup." Uh oh. Shane's not liking the sudden weird atmosphere here.

"... Can I be excused?"

Ryan gestured to the door, looking just as awkward as Shane felt, for once.

"As long as you're coming back, right?"

"Yeah, human. I'm coming back." Duh.

Sure, the topic was kinda uncomfortable, but what's a little ~sexual tension~ between friends? It's one-sided, anyways.

Chapter Text

Okay, so apparently when it comes to relationships, "quality over quantity" is a thing. Even though Ryan was the one commenting on Shane's number of friends. Anyways, Shane's newfound life coach decided it'd be easier to start with making one friend, instead of, you know, inviting 55 demons to friendship via the mail.

"Stephanos Deathstar?"

Shane crossed his arms. "Hate. She was the one who scared you." If it were up to Shane, hurting Ryan would earn a one way ticket to Hell.

"Oh, okay..." Ryan continued scanning the list of Shane's co-workers, "Eugene Yang?"

"Hate. He's too pretty. It pisses me off." Seriously. It's annoying that his hair can just do that, when Shane resembles a ridiculous parrot flaunting its head feathers more and more every day. He ran his hand through his hair self-consciously.

"That's not a valid reason to..." Ryan sighed. "Fine. I don't know how to pronounce this one... Qua-zah?"

"Qezza. Hate. She's infuriating to have a conversation with." Shane learned way too much about her nighttime skin routine yesterday.

Ryan squinted at the paper. "Steven Lim?"

"Double hate."

Ryan frowned. "I thought you said your manager was a nice guy?"

"Oh, he is. You'd like him," Shane said easily. Steven remembers everyone's birthdays, and he brings in home-cooked meals for the office all the time, and he's the first to notice when Shane is having a bad day. The how are you's were irritating, but nice.

Ryan gave Shane another one of those concerned looks that were becoming all too common these days. "You want your friends to be nice, right?"

"Yeah, of course I do." No one could be as nice as the human sitting across from him, though. Shane knows he's a lot to tolerate. Most don't bother.

"... Am I missing something here?" Ryan asked incredulously.

Hm. Ryan's usually a great listener. "No, I already told you about the candle incident. He hates me now." For good reason, admittedly. "Which means I have to hate him proactively."

"Shane!" Ryan threw the paper over the edge of the bed. It floated down gracefully. "That's not how this works. That's not how any of this works!"

That was quite a reaction, there. The demon raised his eyebrows. "Whoa, okay then little guy. Keep going..." He didn't see what the big deal was.

The human huffed. "You still have to write that apology. And offer to go shopping with him. He could pick out a new desk, and you'd pay for it. Conflict resolved. He doesn't hate you, Shane. No one could hate you."

Shane tilted his head and gave his only friend a funny look.

His only friend sighed. "Brent Bennett."

"Loathe entirely!" Shane hissed. "Come on Ry, serious options only. You think I want to spend time with Bluebell?!"

Ryan gave him a steely glare. Unsettling, coming from such a squishy baby face. "You know what I think? I think you don't hate any of these people."

"Demons," Shane corrected.

"Alright," Ryan didn't miss a beat, "I don't think you hate all these demons. Do you even know what 'hate' is?"

"Sure, I do. It's like..." Shane looked off to the side for a moment. "When Brita brings in his gross sesame garlic tofu on ~Meatless Mondays~ and stinks up the whole kitchen."

"That's annoyance. Disgust. Irritation." An accurate description for Bachelor's Degree, if Shane's ever heard one.

"And hate is...?" Shane trailed off. He couldn't think of another solid example.

Ryan looked at him with wonder. "You really don't know?"

"Apparently not?" Can Shane go one chapter without being reminded of how dumb he is? Ask him about that time Britain burned down the White House, or the horrifying shipwreck that inspired Moby Dick, and he'll prove he isn't a total idiot.

Ryan was still looking at him. And then he started to smile. A slow, swelling grin that he didn't seem to be conscious of. It bloomed on his face like a delicate, yellow dandelion bursting through pavement. An unexpected source of light. "That's... really beautiful."

Shane looked over his shoulder. It's just a wall? Ryan chuckled and turned him back around.

"No! You!"

Shane's eyebrows practically hit the ceiling. He thinks I'm beautiful?! Makeajokemakeajokemakeajoke-

Ryan just shook his head. "You don't need to learn how to hate. Ever." He leaned forwards, placing his hand on Shane's knee. The warm touch caused Shane to look down. His entire body was glittering again.

Ryan leaned even closer. All at once, Shane's vision was encapsulated by dark lashes, messy hair, and full, parted lips. It was all he could see. His heart might've tried to jump out of his chest and nope outta there. He might've had to resist the urge himself.

"Shane... I'm not trying to change you with all this," Ryan said slowly, emphasis weighing on every word. "I hope you know that. I just want you to be happy, and be yourself. You hide a lot of parts of who you are, but you don't need to..."

Sirens were going off in Shane's head. "I don't- I don't know what you're g-getting at..." he stammered. Changethesubjectchangethesubject- "Why shouldn't I learn? Isn't hate a big thing that exists?..."

Ryan leaned back, allowing some much needed oxygen to rush back into Shane's lungs. "Let's just say hate is more of a human thing. Ironically." That laugh was hollow. "You don't need it, ever,” he said sincerely, “I'd never want to change you, Shane. You're great just like this."

Shane sprung off the bed like there was a snake slithering under the sheets. Like he was one of Bumblebee's freaking assignments. Retreat! Retreat! Retreat! "Uh, thanks Bruno Mars. Haha." He slowly backed away, grabbing the paper and sticking it in his pocket. Ryan looked hurt. Aw, come on. No, Shane didn't mean...

"You're leaving?"

"Y-Yeah. Ah, um, temporarily..." As if Shane wasn't always leaving temporarily.

Ryan sat up on the bed. Now, that's not fair. If Shane wanted a disappointed face, he'd go to Dad. This was all just... a lot. Ryan opened his mouth, probably to bring up something else Shane doesn't know, when-

"I LEFT THE OVEN ON!" Shane spun on his heels and noped out of there, like the little tiny baby he is.

"ARE THERE EVEN OVENS IN HELL?!"

"BYE!"

Chapter Text

Ready for Shane's hot takes™ on The Lion King?

He doesn't have any. That movie is amazing. Ryan turned on the subtitles so they could sing along (badly). "Circle of Life"? Legendary. "I Just Can't Wait to be King"? Catchy as hell. "Hakuna Matata"? Shane's new motto.

Things got a little weird during "Can You Feel the Love Tonight?", though. The song is, uh, intimate. You could even call it a... ballad. Pray for Shane, please.

I can see what's happening
And they don't have a clue...

Oh, no. Violins were never a good sign. Both boys stopped singing, each staring resolutely at the screen, expressions as carefully impassive as that time you endured a sex scene with your parents. Shane began twiddling his thumbs.

Timon, in a sarcastic mock-French accent: Ze sweet caress of twilight...
Timon, back to normal, but still sarcastic: There's magic everywhere...

Shane snorted. Ryan shushed him.

And with all this romantic atmosphere
Disaster's in the air...

Eye contact was not a thing right now, but out of the corner of Shane's eye, he noticed Ryan tentatively shifting towards him, so slowly Shane thought he was imagining it. But he wasn't imagining the way that stupid thing in his chest was beating faster and faster as Ryan inched closer and closer.

He's holding back, he's hiding
But what? I can't decide...

Ryan smelled like his assignments' homes during Christmastime. (Don't ask Shane about that time he was confused for Santa Clause.) But Shane digresses. The impossibly small human next to him brought to mind pine trees, gingerbread, cinnamon, and freshly fallen snow. He even radiated warmth like those sugar cookies, straight from the oven. Shane's not looking to get burned.

Can you feel the love tonight?
You needn't look too far
Stealing through the night's uncertainties
Love is where they are...

Eventually, their thighs touched. Each pretended not to notice. Their shoulders bumped. That was harder to ignore. What do you think, should Shane yell "I HAVE TO GO TO THE BATHROOM!"? He's seriously considering it.

"Is this, um, okay?" Ryan asked quietly, as if he was afraid the lions would overhear.

"Y-Yeah, it's cool..." Haha yeah, Shane's fine. Why wouldn't he be? It's not like demons can have heart attacks. Hahaha.

And if he falls in love tonight
It can be assumed
His carefree days with us are history
In short, our pal is doooomed...

Relatable. As. Hell.


Shane's enjoyment of the rest of the movie was dampened by his dread of the talk coming afterwards. He knows Ryan's trying to use this to explain the difference between "friends" and "friends who kiss", but he'd rather not debrief what happened during a certain song...

To Shane's surprise, when the credits started rolling, Ryan didn't mention it. The human didn't commence another lecture that Shane wished would just be posted online later. He didn't even ask Shane what he learned, and get baffled by Shane's response, as per usual.

Because Shane's favorite human was fast asleep on his shoulder.

His warm body was a solid weight, and he was gripping a fistful of Shane's sweater, squeezing tighter occasionally. His eyelashes fluttered a couple times, but he was certainly fast asleep. Rare for this one.

You might think Shane would be freaking out here, and he was, but a sleeping Ryan is much easier to deal with. A sleeping Ryan wouldn't comment on the way Shane was gazing at him softly, long after the movie had ended. Or the way Shane carefully pulled him a little closer as he adjusted so they could lay down together. Not even on Shane's decision that he might as well just sleep there. Because, when a human falls asleep on you, you have to resign yourself to never moving again. That's the only reason.

Shane closed his eyes.

Chapter Text

The boys decided that for a little while, Shane would be the one staying up in the middle of the night. It's only fair. The next time they hung out, it was a clear September day, with just a hint of a chill. A ghost whispering in your ear with frosted breath, reminding you of the death to come as summer wilts into autumn. You know, if ghosts actually existed. But yeah. Sweater weather, if you will. Ryan suggested they take advantage of it by spending the evening on the tiny wooden porch behind his apartment, steaming teas in hand.

Now that he's thinking about it, Shane's never been outdoors on Earth before. The two stepped outside, Ryan leading the way. The demon's first reaction to the beauty of nature was BRIGHT! Freaking bright! He squinted up at the sky.

"Why does the sun look like that??" It was... indescribable. Sorry, but that's the best description Shane has. Hell is pretty much identical to Earth, besides the differences in perspectives and gravity, but the sun wasn't that color. Nothing was that color! It looked like when your alarm wakes you up at the asscrack of dawn. You groan as your pupils constrict painfully. In a millisecond, you went from ignorant, blissful darkness to bright, obnoxious reality. He's not talking about the actual color of the light streaming in through the window, just that feeling.

"Stop staring at the sun, idiot!" Ryan chided. "Here, take my sunglasses."

Shane put them on. Oh, okay. The sun was a bland off-white again. Not vibrant at all. The hues around him still looked a little off, but that was just because of the glasses. Crisis averted.

"Sorry... everything looked weird for a moment there." Ryan laughed.

"Yeah, because you were staring straight at the sun, dumbass. That's gonna mess with your vision. I guess you wouldn't have known that, though... You good?"

"Yeah, yeah... I'm all good," Shane said to Ryan, and himself. No use in mentioning you shouldn't stare at the sun in Hell, either.


It's odd. Gravity is stronger on Earth, and yet Shane felt lighter out here. Just sitting with his human, talking about anything and everything, with an endless supply of Chardonnay. Ryan loved that stuff. Alas, all good things must come to an end. Eventually, they had to move on to the dumb topic of ~love.~

"So Nala and Simba were best friends as cubs, right? But their relationship grew as they grew. And now they kiss." Ryan emphasized with some unnecessary hand movements. Gross.

"Yeah, yeah, I get that part. But why are you saying Timon and Pumbaa are just friends?"

Ryan took in a breath. "Because-"

"THEY RAISED A CHILD TOGETHER, RYAN!"


The dull sun began to set, blurring the horizon into purple-gray smog. The clouds drifting sluggishly overhead were tinged faintly pink. Shane's never understood why humans find sunsets beautiful. Boooring. He yawned. Sleep deprivation was rearing its ugly bedhead. He felt bad for all the times he kept Ryan up in the middle of the night, because it didn't feel too great at the moment. Do you humans have to be nocturnal?

"Alright Ry, regrettably, I gotta do the sleep thing." (Shane's thankful Ryan never brought up the spontaneous cuddle sesh last night. Hopefully, he never will.) "Here, you can take your sunglasses back." He handed the plastic frames over.

And then Shane's jaw dropped.

"Give me those!" He snatched them back and held the glasses out in front of him. Gray/pink/purple sunset. It looked normal, muted, but there were colors that... don't exist? He hadn't been paying much attention before, because maybe he'd been focusing on the bright smile of the person beside him.

Has it been like this the whole night?! Shane lowered his arms. He looked past the frames and saw brilliance. The gray was gone, overpowered by vivid new colors. They didn't totally replace the pale peach and violet; there were just more shades. More distinctions. His entire view was more detailed, if that was the right word?

Bro, this is like if they released new fruits and vegetables. This doesn't happen.

"What is that??" He pointed into the distance. Ryan's gaze followed.

"What, the sunset? Clouds? I don't see anything..." Oh no, maybe Shane did look at the sun too long... Or else-

"No, wait! What's up with your glasses?"

The human frowned. "Nothing? I got 'em at Rite Aid, so they're cheap, but they do the job."

???

"Put these on!" Shane pushed the glasses back into Ryan's hands. His friend looked confused, but did what was asked. “What do you see?”

"Okay? Everything's darker. And it blends together more. Am I supposed to be seeing something specific, or...?" Shane spun in a circle, gawking at his surroundings. The reality he knew had been poured into a kaleidoscope and shaken up, refracting into thousands of new hues.

"You don't see it?"

Ryan shook his head. Shane knew his friend well enough by now to know he wasn't fucking with him. Can't blame Ashton this time, either.

"No, wait, take off the glasses!" Shane exclaimed, "You can see it better when they're off." Ryan followed orders. "What do you see?" the perfectly sane demon asked urgently, gesturing at the rich, vivid sunset, emanating warmth and light. It looked the way the rays felt as they brushed over his pale skin in the last moments of dusk. What. The fuck.

"The sunset? It's pretty. I don't see anything wrong with it." Shane kept staring at Ryan, not satisfied with that response. "Um, alright. It's orange."

"THAT'S ORANGE??" No, no, that's not orange... Shane knows orange. It's just light red. This color was like that juicy sour burst that scrunches up your face when you bite into an... orange. The fuck? "Well, what color is the sun?" he asked, baffled.

"Yellow? It's always yellow? I don't know how to play this game, dude." Shane was stunned. The sun is white. Vaguely yellow passing, maybe. Barely. Physics was broken again. But this time, he wasn't dreaming. "Um, let's try this," Ryan suggested, "What color is the grass?"

"Green." Ryan's posture relaxed. "Well, it should be green." Ryan stiffened again. "I don't know what the fuck this is." He gestured at the wide open lawn, spanning far beyond the porch. "That tree is fucked up, too. Well actually, just the leaves. They should be green. Not this... weird stuff." Green is a faded blue, and that's not what Shane was looking at.

His gaze shifted to the white daffodils lining the porch. He knelt down. "Holy shit! There's stuff inside these flowers!" The inner ring wasn't white anymore. He rolled the silky petals between his fingers. All the petals felt the same.

"Yeah, dude," Ryan said slowly, "That's yellow."

"No, it isn't!" Shane insisted. "I know yellow. This is... something else. The whole flower was white before. It should be white." He slumped back onto the wooden chair, dumbfounded. "This is like a friggin' Instagram filter."

"Alright, ya gotta breathe, big guy... sure you’re not colorblind?"

"What? No. I get tested every year, when I get my new glasses prescription. Are YOU?"

Ryan crossed his arms. "My vision isn't the one that just totally shifted, dude." Shane closed his mouth, sassy retort extinguished before it even had a chance.

Fair. Very fair.

"Wait, okay. It shifted when I stepped outside." Yes. Logic is a thing. Shane's gonna do the logic thing. He stepped back inside to see... everything looked just like before. He heaved a sigh of relief.

But the lighting over the kitchen table... Shane approached it, peering at a chandelier so cheap, it could only be from Ikea. It looked white at first, and it's still kinda white, but brighter. Glowing. Warm. There was more life to it, if that makes sense? Alright, how about this: it was like red and white had a baby, but the baby has its own characteristics, too.

Listen, Shane's not a fucking writer. Go to Erin if you want a ~poetic~ description. Or better yet, Janet.

"Is this... yellow?" From the doorway, Ryan nodded. "THIS IS YELLOW??" Shane bounded from room to room with wild eyes. White was definitely still a thing, but some of the white was yellow. And, if he looked closely, there were two other colors Shane didn't recognize: the sunset and the grass. He whipped open the bathroom door to see that everything was, thankfully, the same. Until he looked in the mirror.

"WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK?"

Ryan was at his side in an instant. "What? What?!" This was the third time Shane's seen the human genuinely scared. Once again, he didn't cause it. Not that he wanted to anymore.

"Look at me!" Shane watched himself exclaim. "My eyes! This is why I can't see! How do I get them out?!" Ryan grabbed his shoulder, forcing him to turn so their faces were inches apart. Man, direct eye contact sure is intimate.

"The gold flecks?" Whew. At least he sees them, too.

"Yeah. They're yellow, but yeah. Did the sun do this?" Remind Shane to make an eye appointment, ASAP.

"Gold and yellow are similar; gold is just shinier. And they've always been there. Congratulations dude, those are your eyes. They're really pretty."

"Pretty?!" He pressed his face up to the mirror, nose smudging the glass. The hazel was still there, honey brown with a hint of green, but again, more shades. More variations within his irises. More, oh god, twinkling. He blinked rapidly. His eyes sparkled with warmth. This Shane looked nothing like his father. Now, he wasn't sure if he ever did.

A hand rested on his shoulder. "Um, hey dude, are you feeling-?"



"What am I, a fuckING FAIRY?!?!"



Head rush. That's a head rush. He collapsed onto the cool tiles below. Ryan's frantic yelp sounded far away.

If he dies right now, please make sure those aren't Shane Alexander Madej's last words.

Just make something up. Thanks.


We're going to take a little break here, because Ryan gently (forcefully) suggested Shane take one, and why should you get out of it? We're in this together, human. You've stuck with Shane thus far (because of his wit and intellect); he knows you're not going anywhere at this point. And this chapter has been a lot™, don't you agree?

So yeah, follow Ryan Bergara's orders: Sit down, take some deep breaths, drink water, assure him that your brain is still working properly. Yes you know your name, yes you can count to ten, no you can't recite the alphabet backwards, can anyone actually do that? Once Ryan is sure you're not having a total psychological break, you can move onto the next section.

You good? Alright, Shane's good, too. He’s not dizzy anymore, at least.

And now, without further ado, back to the shit show:


Shane had figured out some things, at least. It's not a sunglasses thing. Or an indoors vs. outdoors thing.

"Maybe it's an Earth vs. Hell thing?"

Ryan shook his head, for the millionth time that night. "I don't think so. Everything looked the same in Hell. To me, at least."

"To you," Shane repeated. "This has gotta be a demon/human thing, then. Demons must have different vision. Which would make sense... if it weren't for me. What's wrong with me, then?"

Ryan opened his mouth.

"Don't answer that."

Ryan closed his mouth.

Man, if Shane thought he was tired before... "I'm just gonna go home, and see what everything looks like. I'll figure it out from there, I guess." He took a sip of the tea that had gone cold hours ago.

"Um, okay, if that's what you want," Ryan covered Shane's shaking form with must be the fifth blanket. Shane held the one around his shoulders tighter. "But you don't have to, you know. Figure this out by yourself."

Shane gave his friend a tight-lipped smile. "I know that now. Thanks, buddy." There's probably a million other things he should thank this one for, but he'll leave it there for now.

"Are you... are you sure you don't want to stay? I'm sure your work won't care. What are they gonna do, fire the boss's son?"

"Fair point." This couch continues to be dangerously comfortable.

"I just don't want you to be alone right now. We, uh, don't have to sleep with, I mean next to each other this time. Um, if you don't want to..."

And that's Shane's cue to leave.

"Thanks, Ry. Really, it means a lot. But I know myself, and I won't be able to sleep until I figure this out."

"Oh, okay." Ryan huddled into himself, looking unfairly cute. "I understand..."

You know what? Shane's had yet another day. So don't blame him for taking what he wants right now. "Before I go, can we...?" He gave the human pleading eyes, hoping he'd understand what he couldn't ask for.

He understood, because he's Ryan. The human's eyes lit up. "Yeah, of course!" He jumped up and enveloped Shane in a hug so warm, it put Olaf the hideous snowman to shame.

... Has it always been this easy? Like, could Shane have just asked for this anytime? Whatever. Too many unanswered questions tonight.

"Goodnight, human."


*Drumroll*

Hell was different, too. Different from how he had left it that day. Or had it always looked like that?

"Yo! Barney the Purple Dinosaur!"

Said dinosaur stopped shaking the photograph he was developing. (Don't ask.) "What do you want, Shane?"

Shane held up two pens, one white and one yellow. New-yellow. "What colors are these?"

Bookmark looked between the two writing instruments suspiciously. "What are you trying to do this time?"

Shane set the pens down on Bowser's desk. "Look, it's not rocket science. Just tell me the colors."

Berlin leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms. "There's gotta be some stupid joke in this for you... there always is."

"Can you just work with me here, Banana?!"

Banana glared.

"Brent. Please work with me, Brent." Every time Shane says that expletive, a fairy falls down dead.

"Fine. White and yellow. Now, leave me alone. I have work to finish." Broom sure was grumpy tonight, for absolutely no reason. Shane swallowed the comment that his little art projects weren't work.

"Okay, but what kind of white? And what does the yellow look like, exactly?" Shane scratched his head. “I guess I’m asking, how can you tell them apart?”

Britney Spears looked between the pens again. "The white is neutral. Subdued. Dreary. The yellow is... almost florescent? I'd call it saturated. On brighter end of the spectrum."

"Okay, but it is a spectrum, right? I guess what I'm asking, is white just light yellow, like pink is light red?"

"Yeah? Of course." No, it's not! Not anymore. "I've never seen you take an interest in colors, Shane. If you want me to photograph your aura, all you have to do is ask."

"Rather die,” Shane said reflexively.

... Ugh, can you stop it with the nagging? Fine, he admits that wasn’t nice, and maybe he should be a bit more polite to Brown In The Oven At 350 Degrees Before Proceeding To Step Two. What’s that word again? “But thanks, Brent." Ugh. It left a terrible taste in his mouth.

Blender shrugged and turned his chair around, obviously not expecting any other answer.

You know, why did Shane even bother with Carole Baskins in the first place? The demon he really needs to talk to is Janet. The one who passionately lectures on the difference between red and blood orange. Shane rolled his eyes at the time, but... holy shit, he can actually see a difference now. Okay, he's going to go to talk to her, and he'll debrief you afterwards.


It's official. Shane can't see like a demon anymore. He can see more than a demon. Whether that's for better or worse, he doesn't know.

It only became more official when he passed dad's stupid painting, only to gasp out loud. This time, it was glittering with gold. But only the exterior. The frame, and a couple objects in the background. Shane had thought they were porcelain before. He didn't know what to make of that...

Honestly, who even cares? Just mark it down as yet another thing his dumb ass hadn't fucking noticed before because his dumb ass was up his ass. Whatever. Shane's going to bed now. Goodnight, human.

Really. He hopes you have a good night.


Author's Note: What Shane sees now vs. before.

Chapter Text

There comes a time when every student must apply what they've learned. This was that time. Shane fruitlessly tried to smooth his hair in the mirror. Is there anything I won't do for Ryan Steven Bergara?

Jen's voice could be clearly heard from outside the bathroom, discussing whatever "Dungeons & Dragons" was. Shane gave himself one last look in the mirror and sighed. Guess not.

3... 2...1... action.

"Hi Jen, could I talk to you for a minute?"

She told Quinta she'd see her at lunch before turning around. "Oh, hey Shane. What's up? Are you having issues with those reports again?"

"No, not anymore. Thanks for your help the other day..." The stalling wasn't helping his cause. "I was wondering if I could ask you something?"

She raised her eyebrows, a silent go ahead.

What did Ryan say again? Be genuine and straightforward. Two words you wouldn't use to describe Shane Madej. Here goes nothing.

"So, um, I think you're really funny, and cool, and I'd like to spend more time with you. Uh, would you want to get coffee with me sometime? Or eat lunch together, I don't know..."

She looked taken aback. Oh right, Shane needs to clarify the difference between like and like-like:

"But I'm not attracted to you. At all." Can't get more straightforward than that. "Don't get me wrong, you're a good looking woman, but I'd never want to have sex with you." He laughed awkwardly.

(How's Shane doing so far?)

Jen was staring at him, face impassive and arms crossed. Not a good sign.

"But that's not the point!" Shane clarified. "I just mean, what I'm trying to say is... I'd like to be your friend, Jen. If you want to be my friend, too. I'm sorry, I'm not good at this..." But Ryan said practice makes perfect. If he totally butchers this, (which it looks like he is), Ryan said that Shane can just consider this his first "practice."

Jen finally spoke. "Well... I'm certainly surprised those words came out of your mouth. But sure. You're pretty funny yourself apparently, and I'd like to see what that looks like. I'm having a game night Friday with a couple demons from work and some angels. How about you join us?"

"You really want me to?" Holy shit. That actually worked? Did Shane even want it to have worked?

She smiled and nudged him on the shoulder. "Yes, dummy. Just bring a board game, if you have one. And not Monopoly. It ended friendships last time."

Shane laughed. "Okay." He can do that. He can definitely do that. He was still smiling on the way back to his desk.

"Besides, I'm not attracted to you, either. Never have been. So this all works out."

...

Shane whipped his head around. "What do you mean, you're not attracted to me??"

She rolled her dark eyes. "I'm a lesbian, Shane."

Oh, okay. That makes sense, kinda. "Okay, but if you weren't-"

"Don't finish that sentence if you still want to come to game night."

Shane didn't finish that sentence.


After Shane broke the news to his first friend that he couldn't come over on Friday because he had, well, plans, Ryan's eyes lit up.

"No way! You did it; you really did it!" He jumped up and pulled Shane into a hug, which were becoming more and more common these days. Not that Shane's complaining.

Ryan leaned back and smiled. "I'm proud of you."

That's... not a phrase Shane's heard too often. Once again, he didn't know how to react. He could make a lame joke. He could run away. He could set something on fire again. Instead...

"Thanks, Ry. I'm really thankful for your help." Bitch, you thought!

Ryan's grin could power Inferno for a year. Maybe that's what's fueling the meter.

Shane's kidding, of course. That'd be impossible.


Shane's author's note:

You might be surprised that demons are happy to hang out with angels, and vice versa. You shouldn't be. What's the logic in making sweeping generalizations and hating an entire group based on dumb stereotypes? That's a human thing.

Anyways, uh, thanks for the support.

Chapter Text

Shane doesn't bring up work too often, because why talk about work when you can talk about Ryan? To Ryan. Talk to Ryan.

Anyways.

It's time to talk about work. There’s a reason for all the recent downsizing and budget cuts: productivity was down this year. As it's been for the past couple decades. And it's 100% your fault. You humans just don't get frightened as easily anymore. It confuses Shane, because from what he's heard, Earth seems to be a scarier place to live by the day. And yet...

Lucifer would rant about those damn video games, desensitizing everyone. Bozo the Clown would have some deep psychological analysis about how the human mind wasn't built to handle this constant barrage of bad news. Or blame Venus. Jen thinks it's learned helplessness. Once humans understand they have absolutely no control over the terrors in their lives, they just accept it. Andrew says humans have joined him in the "dead inside" club. Steven praises humans for their advancements in mental health, and the de-stigmatization of therapy, while carefully sidestepping the actual issue.

Qezza would tell you that she was a violin prodigy at five years old. Really, she was. Her teacher even said so. She'll show you some videos, if you want. Actually, she has them right here. Hear that rendition of "Twinkle Twinkle"? No, Qezza doesn't play anymore. She's just saying she was really good.

How does this relate to anything? It doesn't. She's Qezza. Moving on.

And Shane? Well, he doesn't know. He's not going to pretend to. He knows he's not good at this empathy thing. So, he's just going to ask: Are you okay, human? He hopes you are. But he also hopes you have a little healthy fear in your life. It's okay to be scared, you know. Shane's learned that recently.

The point is Hell was practically running on empty. Has been for a while now. It's an undercurrent in every staff meeting, from every communication from headquarters. Eventually, it needs to be addressed: something needs to be done.

Demons don't want to torture you, you know. There's no pleasure in watching a lobster boil in a pot. And that's the problem. As painful as it is, you've all gotten used to the temperature. When you see suffering enough, you stop seeing it altogether. Eventually, demons are going to have to turn up the heat. Which has some horrific implications. Eventually, someone has to bring it up.

But it won't be Shane. Ryan's right; scaring humans is cruel. And demons aren’t cruel. At least, they shouldn't be.

Needless to say, morale was down. It has been for a while. Free pretzel day was a great help, in Shane's opinion, but it wasn't enough for everybody. So when Shane casually mentioned the "bring your children to work day” coming up, Ryan was all ears.

"Dude, this is a great opportunity for people to get to know you!"

"Demons," Shane corrected.

"Demons. You could bring your spiders in! I bet no one knows what an amazing pet owner you are!"

"Father," Shane corrected.

Ryan chuckled. "Okay, what a great father you are, then. That's so sweet."

"I'm not sweet," Shane corrected.

Ryan just smiled and shook his head. What does that mean?! You know Shane's not sweet, right? Come on, he's a certified bad ass.

Ryan hugged himself and slumped back on the couch, "Alright, I was just super excited about this and it would make me so happy, but it sounds like you're not going..."

"Of course I'm going," Shane corrected. Wait, fuck.

Ugh. Here we go again.


Before we get into this, Shane should probably explain a little about demon children. No, he's not explaining where they come from. By now, you should've gotten the sex talk already.

What Shane wants to explain is why they look different from human children. The phrase "children are demons" isn't an overstatement. See, the stereotypes about his community have a source: kids really do have tails and horns. Once a child begins the wondrous transformation that is puberty, everything eventually just falls off like baby teeth to make room for secondary sex characteristics.

No, the horn fairy isn't real, but don't tell the kiddies that. Let them believe some creepy creature leaves money under their pillows for a little longer.


The day started out alright. Shane loaded his babies into their transportable terrarium. He them to be on their best behavior because parents always get the blame for the dumb shit their children do. Once he got to work, he carefully set them up on his desk, making sure they had enough water and crickets to last the day.

He kept the tank firmly closed. There's no way he's letting any of these children touch his spiders. Kids shouldn't even be able to touch animals until they learn to be gentle. Seriously, fuck those parents who let their toddler squeeze a hamster until its eyes bulge out.

Thankfully, the kids were more than happy to just gawk at the tank. Two sisters named Sophie and Rosalee climbed onto Shane's lap to get a better look. Because who needs to ask permission, right? Shane had to jerk his head back after Rosalee ended up pricking him on the chin with her horns. She didn't notice, of course.

"What are those stringy things?" Sophie asked curiously.

Shane rubbed his aching jaw. "Those are their webs."

She leaned forwards, smudging the glass with her little fingers. "But what do they do?"

"Oh, that's how spiders catch their food," Shane explained. "It's sticky, so little bugs get stuck. The spiders wrap them up like mummies so they can't move. Then they have a snack for later!"

Sophie turned around, tears in her big green eyes. "They EAT THEM?" Taken aback, Shane just nodded.

"They eat them!!!" Rosalee wailed.

"Shane!" Janet marched over, daggers in her eyes. Well, more like waddled over with daggers in her eyes, since she was pregnant. "What are you telling my children?"

"Uh, the truth?"

"They eat them, mama!" Sophie sobbed.

"Hushhhh, no they don't, sweetie," Janet soothed, "The spiders make friends with the crickets. Don't they, Shane?"

"No?"

Fuck you, Janet mouthed. She led her distraught daughters away.

Whatever. Welcome to the real world, kiddos.


Eventually, lunch time rolled around. "Hey everyone!" Katie called out, shushing her twins before continuing, "You can head to the break room now for the "adults only" lunch; we got Mexican!"

Oh, sweet. They never got catering. He started following the crowd.

Andrew turned around in confusion. "Oh wait, Shane we thought you knew, you're assigned to stay here."

"By who?!"

"Me," Steven had come up behind them. "Someone has to stay with the children. And you're good with them; they like you."

Shane jumped when a tiny, sticky hand grasped his. A little boy, no older than 5, was smiling up at him. Ugh, why are children always STICKY? He groaned, but didn't let go of the boy's hand. (Come on, he's not a monster.)

Jen patted his shoulder on his way out. "I'll save you some food, buddy."

"Besides," Stephanos brushed past him, "You not coming is kind of implied in the name, isn't it?"

...

...

...

"ArE yOu CaLLiNg mE a cHiLd???"

He ignored the handful of giggles behind him as his face burned. No, no, no. He's not being left alone with a bunch of demon children. He raced after them, only to be faced with a locked door. Through the window, Basil gave him a smirk and a salute. Since when did Boaty McBoatface get sassy? No, no. This was unacceptable.

"Let me in, or else I'll HUFF AND PULL AND BLOW THIS PLACE DOWN!"

Nah, just kidding. Shane didn't say that. What he really said was:

"Let me in, or I'll TEACH YOUR CHILDREN EVERY CURSE WORD IN THE BOOK! BY GOD, I'LL DO IT!" No one was paying him attention anymore. "SON OF A B-"

"Shaney?”

Shaney turned. It was the little boy from earlier, looking up at him with wide eyes. “... bathtub. Son of a bathtub,” he finished lamely. Good thing he has an infinite mental list of words beginning with “B”.

The boy giggled. “Bathtubs have babies?”

Shaney sighed. (STOP CALLING HIM SHANEY, ERIN!!!) “Only if they're married and responsible. Come on, Kasper, let’s go find the others.” He held out his hand, and Kasper was kind enough to remove his finger from his nose before gripping it.

Sometimes Shane remembers that where he lives is, indeed, Hell.


Shane and Kasper arrived back at the cubicles, only to realize the children had the wonderful idea of playing hide and seek. And Shane was “it.” Sigh.

And there were 13 children here today. 13!!!! Wouldn’t you think Shane deserved some back up?! And then he spotted Cathe, Barnacle’s niece, sitting quietly at Boo-Boo’s desk, writing something. Well, that’s a relief. She’s 15, so she has to be mature by now. That good little girl is probably doing her homework.

“Hey Cathe, can you help me with the babysitting today? ... Wait, is that MY notebook?”

She looked up and grinned. “I’m almost done. And then sure, I’ll help.”

“Almost done with what?!” Shane tried to peek, but she swiveled her chair away.

“Fanfiction! Haven't you seen the way Steven and Andrew look at each other?” she asked dreamily, still writing.

“WHAT?!” Shane snatched the notebook away while she laughed. His jaw dropped as he flipped from page to page. He can’t tell you what was in there, because this work is rated "general audiences." He’ll just tell you that it offended his delicate sensibilities, and now he can never go in the supply closet again without shuddering. He hopes none of you would ever read such filth.

"Y-You s-shouldn't..." Shane sputtered. He looked up at her amused expression. "You shouldn't know what any of this is!" he scolded.

Cathe shrugged. "I'll go find the kids for you now!" she chirped before bounding off.

Shane left the obscene material on Botanical Garden's desk. He can deal with it.


They had almost found everyone, because seriously, children suck at hiding. But there was still one missing. Shane was walking with Kasper at his heels when he heard a little sound. Usually, when kids hide, they giggle. This was clearly a sniffle. Shane noticed the tiny red Velcro shoes sticking out from under Qezza's desk.

"Hey buddy, can you go play with your other friends for a minute?" Shane asked quietly.

"But I want to hold your hand!" Kasper whined.

"You can hold my hand after, okay? Promise." Kasper nodded and wandered off.

Looks like it's time to use Shane's terrific acting skills, and pretend he has no idea where the fuck the kid is.

"Hmmm!" he said out loud, "I wonder where they could be!" The sniffles stopped. Shane opened a drawer. "Not here!" He looked behind the file cabinet. "Not here! Wow, someone must be a great hider!"

"... I'm down here," said a small voice.

"Whoa!" Shane exclaimed before kneeling down. A little boy in a navy sweatshirt was huddled underneath. "I would've never found you. Good job! Do you want to come and play with the rest of us now?"

"No," the boy mumbled. Shane frowned. "But you can come under here, if you want..."

Fitting his lanky 6'4 body under a desk was even more awkward than you'd imagine. But it made the kid stop sniffling, at least.

"Hi, there," Shane whispered, as if he was afraid others would overhear, "This sure is a cool hiding spot. What's your name, little guy?"

"J-Juno..."

"Hi Juno, I'm Shane." He offered a handshake. "Can we be friends?"

Juno giggled and shook his hand. "Okay." (Has it been that easy this whole time?)

"Why were you crying, buddy? You won the game! You beat all of us! Your mom is going to be so proud."

Juno's eyes welled up again. Looked like Shane said the wrong thing, as per usual.

"I'm c-crying b-because I miss her..."

"But she's just at lunch," Shane pointed out, "She's coming right back."

Juno kept sniffling. Note to self: don't use logic with children.

Snot was dripping down Juno's face. Well, this is awkward. From under the desk, Shane looked around helplessly, before he spotted something on his desk across the aisle.

"Hey, I know who helps me when I'm missing someone..."

Juno glanced up curiously. "Who?"

"I'll be right back, okay?" Shane promised. Juno nodded. Shane contorted himself to get out from under the desk, hitting his giant head in the process. Ouch. Once he recovered, he ran over to his desk, grabbed the plushie Ryan gave him, and ran back to rejoin the kid.

"See this little dragon?" Shane held up the soft plushie. "His name is Toothless. My best friend gave him to me, and he helps me when I'm missing that friend."

"Ooooh."

"Toothless wants to help you, too. Can he be your friend?" Shane offered the stuffed animal. Smiling, Juno grabbed it and squeezed the life out of it. Which was fine, because it wasn't a living being. (Seriously, fuck parents who let their kids torture animals.)

After that, Juno was content for the rest of the day. Only 12 more gremlins to deal with.


“WHERE ON EARTH DID YOU GET A PITCHFORK, HALEY? PUT IT DOWN BEFORE YOU POKE SOMEONE’S EYE OUT!!!”


After another exhausting round of "Red Light, Green Light" with all the kids, a 10-year-old named Julia came up to him, scratching her dark curls.

"Shaney, can I please take off the pool noodles? They're itchy."

Alright, you know how some human parents use leashes? Demon parents do a similar stupid thing: they cover their childrens' horns with pool noodles. Julia's bright indigo horns were covered with obnoxious styrofoam cylinders. Being a kid is hard enough. Do parents really have to cramp their style, too?

"Sure, go ahead," Shane said distractedly as he mentally prepared himself to play a stoplight again.

No less than 10 seconds later, Shane heard a wail. He turned around to see Julia had headbutted her brother Virgil in the stomach. She cackled with glee.

"JULIA!" She jumped.

"POOL NOODLES. BACK ON. NOW!"


Shane refused to play another round. Can’t he just sit down for 5 minutes?

At that moment, Katie’s twins raced past him into the hallway, screaming, “Catch us if you can!”

Ugh!!!

“Cathe!” Shane barked, “Watch the rest of the kids while I go get them.”

She looked up from her writing and gave him a thumbs up, before returning to her writing. Not reassuring, but Shane can’t be two places at once. He sprinted after them.

He finally found Evan and Layla standing at the end of a hallway, holding hands and staring him down. Their silver horns glinted eerily against their dark hair. Shane panted while he leaned against the wall.

“What are you guys...?”

“Play with us, Shaney!” they chanted. “Play with us!”

Oh! Shane’s chest bursted with pride. They were doing a “Shining’’ impression! These two are going to be great scarers one day.

What Shane thought: Awwwww, how adorable!

What Shane said: “AHHHHHHH! I’M TERRIFIED!”

He clutched his head in horror. They broke character into delighted smiles.

He strategically ran back to the offices, satisfied when he heard little footsteps chasing after him.


“Did you seriously, seriously just ask me if glue came in different flavors? You’re not supposed to be eating glue in the first place, Leo! HAND IT OVER!!!”


Do you ever feel like breaking down?
Do you ever feel out of place?
Like somehow you just don't belong
And no one understands you...

"Kid, please, not the Simple Plan album again," Shane groaned, "Please, anything else. You can even play Black Veil Brides again. Or My Chemical Romance? Anything but this."

Broose was sprawled out on the floor, blasting music from her mini stereo. She ignored him, focusing on her coloring. Well, more like scribbling. The 13 year old was pressing down pretty damn hard with that black crayon.

Do you ever want to run away?
Do you lock yourself in your room?
With the radio on turned up so loud
That no one hears you screaming...

"Oh hell no, you are NOT screaming in this office. I don't care how badly you want to practice your screamo."

No you don't know what its like
When nothing feels alright
You don't know what its like to be like me
To be hurt, to feel lost
To be left out in the dark
To be kicked when you're down
To feel like you've been pushed around...

Shane looked up from his paperwork. "Did Julia take her pool floaties off again?! I thought I told her to stop attacking other children!"

"No..." Broose said morosely. Shane sighed and returned to his paperwork. Click! The song changed. Oh, thank god. Wait...

"Come on kid, not more Simple Plan!"

"You don't get it!" Broose yelled, "They're the only ones who understand me!"

"These punks?!" Shane exclaimed. "I don't know how to tell you this, but it's been a long time since they've been in middle school."

"Whatever. I can't wait to get out of this town," she muttered.

"... And by 'this town', you mean Hell?"

She didn't answer him, returning to her task of coloring an entire sheet of paper black for no apparent reason. The crayola was starting to crumble from the force of teenage angst.

I woke up it was 7
I waited 'til 11
To figure out that no one would call
I think I got a lot of friends
But I don't hear from them...

What's another night all alone
When you're spending every day on your own
And here it goes..

"Why would you be throwing a party? You're 13?" No answer.

I'm just a kid, and life is a nightmare
I'm just a kid, I know that it's not fair,
Nobody cares, 'cause I'm alone
And the world is having more fun than me
Tonight...

"Your friends are literally 10 feet away," Shane pointed out.

And maybe when the night is dead,
I'll crawl into my bed
Staring at these 4 walls again
I'll try to think about the last time, I had a good time
Everyone's got somewhere to go
And they're gonna leave me here on my own...

"FOR THE LAST TIME, YOU'RE WELCOME TO JOIN US IN UNO! YOU JUST HAVE TO WAIT UNTIL THE NEXT ROUND!"

What the fuck is wrong with me-

"LANGUAGE!"

Don't fit in with anybody
How did this happen to me?
Wide awake I'm bored and I can't fall asleep
And every night is the worst night ever...

Wait. There might be a hidden meaning behind these unbelievably whiny lyrics...

I'm all alone tonight
Nobody cares tonight
Cause I'm just a kid tonight...

The crappy song ended. Shane carefully got up from his desk, and knelt down next to the little girl on the floor. Yup, the crayons were definitely broken. Tomorrow, he's sending a bill to all the parents for his property damage.

"Hey there, Broose... are you okay?" Shane asked hesitantly.

For the first time, she looked up. Her bright blue eyes glimmered with tears, contrasting with her jet black horns. The little girl shook her head.

Shane had no idea what to do in this situation. "Um, do you want a hug?" he asked awkwardly. Remarkably, it appeared to be the right thing to say. She dropped her crayons and threw her little arms around him.

Shane just waited. You should always let a kid let go of a hug first, because you never know how long they need it. He can't tell you what they talked about, because he promise he'd keep it secret. He'll just say that being a teenager really freaking sucks. No wonder they're so angry all the time.

Broose's mom decided to take her home early, because she was a little moody. But she left a few gifts on Shane's desk. He begrudgingly put on the "Welcome to the Black Parade" wristband, knowing full well Ryan would mock him for it later.

She'd also left him her drawing. Thick, angry black lines sporadically slashed the page. But now, there was a little gray as well. Shane smiled.


Lunch couldn't have ended sooner. Shane had never been so grateful to do paperwork. But of course, two minutes later, he was interrupted by crunching noises behind him. He turned around to see a girl with dirty blonde pigtails and bright red horns, munching on goldfish.

"What's your name?" Shane asked, mildly irritated.

Munch, munch, munch. "Jacki."

"Can I help you with something, Jacki?"

Munch, munch, munch. "Nope, I'm good."

Looks like she had no problem just standing there, staring at him like a stalker. Shane decided to ignore her. Munch, munch, munch.


“Hey Shaney, did you know Abe Lincoln?”

“... That’s literally impossible. He died hundreds of years ago.” And can this kid stop following him now?

Austen scratched their chin and tapped their foot.

“Michael Jordan?”

Shane put his hands on his hips. “Do I LOOK like a basketball player?”

Austen looked him up and down. Hard to do for someone who’s three feet tall, amber horns included. “Kinda.”

“No, I’m not a basketball player,” Shane grouched. He stands by his statement that he would rather die than play sports.

“Well, what about the Rock? You have to know him. Could you get me his autograph? Or Shaquille O’Neal? I’ve heard he’s really funny.”

Wait a minute...

Shane spun around. “Do you think all tall people just KNOW each other? That’s not how this works, Austen!”

“... Jared Padalecki?”

If Shane’s hair wasn’t so gorgeous, he’d rip it out.


"Hey, who's this?" Jacki picked up a photograph on Shane's desk. It was a photo of Ryan, the day of Shane's first sunset. Ryan wanted to document it, but demons don't show up on digital camera. They only show up on Polaroid. I know, makes total sense. So instead, it was just Ryan in the picture. At first, they tried to take it with the sunset behind him, but Ryan came out as a dark silhouette. Shane decided to take a second picture, opposite the sunset, with the setting sun illuminating Ryan's face. The golden light highlighted his features as he smiled like Shane like he'd just won the lottery. That was the picture Shane decided to keep.

"That's my friend, Ryan."

Jacki tossed her goldfish bag into the trashcan. Thank god she was done. "He's cute," she commented, handing the picture back.

"Yeah, he is," Shane said affectionately. He carefully stuck the picture back to his corkboard.

"Sure he's just your friend?"

...

"Hey Jacki," Shane pulled open his secret snack drawer. "Want some more goldfish?"

She nodded excitedly. She didn't ask about Ryan again. Munch, munch, munch.


Unfortunately, Ellie had overheard, and she wasn’t so easily distracted.

Shane groaned and rubbed his temples as the little demon skipped around the room in glee, singing “Shaney and Ryan sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G!”

Meanwhile, Shane (WITHOUT THE “Y”!) was mouthing K-I-L-L M-E at the security camera.


When Shane returned back with his pathetic lunch from the vending machine (Pepsi and a muffin), there was a piece of paper on his desk.

He pushed his stupid muffin aside and picked it up. Some kid must’ve left their drawing here. A shit drawing. Seriously, bless all the parents who have to pretend their children’s artwork is good. They even have to hold onto it, for years.

Then Shane looked closer. It was a drawing of him. A terrible rendition, they totally messed up the fantastic arc of his eyebrows and his nose was NOT that big, but still. It was him. Holding the hands of a little girl. Maybe a tween, (a TWEEN drew this shitty thing??) with brown eyes, shoulder-length black hair, and bubblegum pink horns, barely coming up to his hip. Both poorly-sketched demons smiled up at Shane.

There was something written underneath: “To Shaney, Love Sandi. Thank you for the best day ever! ❤️” in green handwriting. Oh. So that’s what Sandi borrowed his markers for.

Maybe Shane’s being harsh, but you should know by now that he has an eye for art. And this was all out of proportion, lacking imagination in color, and completely absent of depth. And why would a sun wear sunglasses? What was it protecting itself from??

So yeah, it was objectively terrible.

Shane took it home and put it on his fridge. A week later, he bought a frame.


“Do not. Say. A word. Barley.”

Bridezilla just smiled and mimed that his lips were sealed.

Okay, yes Shane looked ridiculous with a million tiny braids in his overgrown locks, but he’d promised Marit that he’d keep it for the rest of the day. After all, she had worked really hard on yanking his hair into this style.


Shane had barely gotten half a page of paperwork done when another child started bothering him. Hail leaned against his desk, ripping all the caps off his glitter gel pens. Hmph. She better put those back when she's done.

“So, like, how old is Lucifer?" Hail asked innocently, "Pretty old, right? I bet he gets sick often."

“Not really? He's immortal?” Lucifer is one of the few living beings that doesn't reincarnate. Even demons and angels are reborn after their life cycle ends.

“Hahaha, sure.” She smiled sweetly. Those incisors were sharp. "And I've heard you're not too interested in ruling this place. I don't know, it's just like, interesting to me..."

Uh yeah, this little girl is gonna end up in jail in a few years.


Shane doesn't care what any of you think; there's absolutely no point in letting a child win at things. First off, you're teaching them absolutely nothing. They won't have any motivation to improve their skills if they already believe they're "the best." Second, you're just setting them up for a world of disappointment when they finally play someone honest and realize they fucking suck at checkers.

Which is why Shane was so surprised when he heard a triumphant, "I WON!" after absentmindedly playing Connect Four for ten minutes.

"What?", he asked, confused. Anaiah was so small that all Shane could see was her apple green horns sticking up from behind the grid.

"I won!!!" she repeated excitedly, running over to his side and pointing to a diagonal row.

"No you didn't..." Shane counted. 1... 2... 3... 4! "Holy Sh... Shih Tzu!" (Nice save, right?) "You DID win!"

She jumped up and began tossing the little plastic discs at Shane with glee. "YOU'RE A LOSER, SHANEY!"

Shaney laughed, catching them in his hands. "You're right! I'm a loser! And you're a winner, Anaiah!" She actually did it!!!

"Now pick me up and spin me in a circle!" she ordered. Children have strangely specific demands.

But, she had earned it.

Shane gave in, and her happy squeals echoed through the office.


Shane's rule about not letting children win doesn't extend to other things. For instance, when a kid is showing you their card trick, you have to pretend to be astounded. Gotta build up that self-esteem.

"Pick a card, any card!" Yosa said confidently.

Shane smiled and drew a card. Seven of hearts.

"Um, wait..." Yosa said, less confidently. "Can you pick a different card?" he whispered. Yosa held out the deck again. Shane couldn't help but notice the one card sticking out much further than the others. He chose it, because that's what you do.

"Okay!" Yosa tucked the card in his back pocket and rubbed his hands. "Was ace of spades your card?!"

Shane turned the card over and gasped in amazement. There it was: ace of spades.

"NO WAY! HOW DID YOU KNOW?"

"Magic!!!"

(Magic's not real.)


“Alex! That’s a very important project, don’t mess with that! Go destroy something else, okay?”

CRASH!

“Oh my god, I didn’t mean LITERALLY!!!”


Nap time is a sham. Shane was so looking forward to it, and actually really needed it. But apparently, it’s for the kids, not the adults. Seriously, what gives?

And whose job was it to round up the micro-demons? ... Correct! Shane Alexander Madej: Nanny extraordinaire. Apparently.

“No!” Elian screamed, “I’m not going to nap time!” The tantrum was causing the kid's bun to become loose. Stray strands of dark hair fell out to frame chubby cheeks and round eyes.

“Kid, please...” Shane wasn’t above begging anymore.

“Not unless you carry me!” the little shit demanded, crossing their little arms, and testing Shane’s little patience.

“Fine.” Shane knelt down for a piggy back ride.

“No! I want to be 100 feet tall, so I have to be on your shoulders!”

“I’m not 100 feet tall! Not even close!” But Shane obliged.

Or maybe Shane was 100 feet tall, because Elian’s sky blue horns punctured the ceiling when he stood up.

“Oh god, you okay kid?!”

Elian just giggled from above him, sticking tiny fingers into the holes. Shane sighed.

“Glad you’re okay. Alright buddy, who do we blame when we break something?”

“Brant!”

“You got it.” Shane reached up for a high five, which was promptly returned.


Five o'clock finally came around, and Shane was exhausted, but not too exhausted to brag. He popped into his favorite human's room:

"Hey Ry, guess who made thirteen new friends today, WITHOUT your help?"

"That's cool," Ryan said, without looking up from his book, "Were any of them over the age of 12?"

"... Fuck you."

Ryan laughed. Shane walked right out.

The curse hadn't quite matched his heart eyes.


Shane's author's note:

Don't listen to Erin, I didn't have heart eyes!!!

And don’t you dare call me Shaney in the comments. If you do, then I, the protagonist, am breaking up with you, the reader.

Chapter Text

After receiving crushing hugs from 13 little gremlins on their way out, Shane slumped onto his desk chair. Well, that was an exhausting day. A good day, though. Aren't you proud of him?

Shane was almost ready to go home. Time for a quick role call. He counted... 1,366. No, that's not right. He'll count again... 1,366. Fuck, fuck. It should be 1,367. If they'd just stay still, this would be much easier. 1,366.

Who's missing?!

Oh. Shane smacked his forehead. Spider #420. Of course it was 420. That one was always slacking off and getting into trouble. And had a bottomless stomach. Shane lovingly gave him the nickname "Munchie", for obvious reasons.

But... fuck. Where was Munchie, then???

After Shane had practically disassembled his desk, he started asking around. Has anyone seen a little guy with eight legs around? No one had.

Shane's thoughts bounced around his brain like a bingo ball roller. He retraced his steps, looking in increasingly unlikely places, but... nothing. No sign of Munchie. Not even any discarded candy wrappers.


Shane had been looking for a solid hour. He had to find Munchie before 6pm, because that's when cleaning services came in. His son wouldn't stand a chance against a vacuum cleaner.

Things were getting more dire by the minute. You know, as messy as the human world is, at least you guys had the foresight to have Amber Alerts. No such thing existed in Hell.

Still no sign of Munchie. Alright, Shane's demon enough to admit it: he's in tears. He's frantic. He's having a full blown freak out. He has a tiny crush on Ryan Bergara. He'll admit whatever you want, as long as he gets his baby back safe and sound!

As safe as his office was, (minus the fire hazards), it was incredibly dangerous for a spider. Really. Imagine you're the size of a skittle, if the skittle was fucking adorable. Now, look around the room you're in right now, and observe all the things that could trap, crush, squish, or squash you.

But objects don't typically fall over on their own. The biggest danger? Humans. And demons. Must you all be so heartless?! Arachnids don't hurt you; they help you! Shane hasn't seen a single insect in his apartment in months. Come on, you have to admit you'd prefer spiders over mosquitoes.

If you care about Shane at all, please, please don't kill spiders going forward. Just let the babies go.

Just then, Shane spotted Munchie, climbing the stack of erasures on Brisk's desk. He made a run for it. Baby Food got there first. No, no, no no...



"NO, STOP!!! DON'T HURT HIM!!!"



Shane had never screamed so loud in his life. Never had a reason to, before today.

Battering Ram hadn't moved; he was bending over Munchie. Shane ran up to him, tears streaming down his face. An image of the tiniest coffin flashed in his mind. But that couldn't be true. It couldn't.

"Please... please..." Shane's voice sounded broken. He didn't even know what he was asking for. Just let Munchie be okay.

Break-A-Leg turned around, holding a glass jar with paper over the top. Munchie was imprisoned inside.

"Brent, don't do it!!!" Shane begged as he raced over, "Please!!!"

Brainwash looked up in confusion. "What? No, of course I wasn't going to hurt it. I'm putting it outside."

And this is when Shane learned what relief feels like. Every muscle in his body relaxed like a puppet whose strings have just been cut. His pulse wasn't on board yet; it pounded in his chest. "You..." the relieved father breathed. He was speechless. Absolutely speechless.

Babysitter's Club set the jar gently down on the desk. "Shane, are you okay?" he asked with genuine concern. Goddammit. Shane's going to have to be nice to him going forward, isn't he?

Shane fell to his knees besides the desk, at eye level with Munchie, who recognized him instantly. Spider 420 scuttled up to the top of the jar, waiting patiently for freedom. Shane laughed and removed the paper. Munchie crawled onto his hand, up his arm, and came to rest on his favorite spot on Dad's shoulder. Right where he should be.

"Oh," Braid said from above him, "That's one of your spider children, isn't it?"

"Isn't he," Shane automatically corrected.

Fuck, okay. You're right this time. He needs to say something nice to Boiling Point. Shane sighed and stood up. Bowling Ball was eyeing him cautiously, which was fair.

Aw jeez, what would a nice person say? Bob Ross, you got any ideas? Thank you doesn't seem enough for this. Blubber saved his son, which means he's earned...

"I like your art..." Shane muttered, looking down at Munchie crawling in erratic circles in his palm. It tickled a bit.

"What?"

Please nominate Shane for sainthood. "Your photographs," Shane said stiffly, gesturing at the pictures decorating the wall next to Biscuit's desk, "They're nice. You have a good sense of color." And he's certified to say that, now.

Barely Awake looked back at the wall in awe. "You're talking about my photos?"

"Yup." Shane popped the "P".


We're going to pause here, for a dramatic flash black:

*Dramatic flash back noises*

A little over a year ago, Shane was profoundly irritated when Butternut Squash waltzed into work, crowing about his newfound ~ability~. He excitedly explained to anyone who wanted to know, (plus those who didn't want to know), that he'd made a terrific discovery.

Over the weekend, Battery had bought an instant Polaroid camera off Facebook Marketplace. Barometry is all about recycling. He was only planning on using it to take pictures for Cathe's middle school graduation. But then, the ~magic~ happened. You noticed the sarcasm with the word "magic", right? To be absolutely fucking clear, that was sarcasm. But Shane's the only one who knows that. To this day, actually. This whole time, Shane's had to resist revealing that he's smarter than everyone in this damn office.

But Shane, once again, digresses.

On this day, Bungee-Cord was even more irritating than usual. Because what he was bragging about was absolutely not scientific in any way, shape, or form. Ready to hear Blueberry's fantastical ability? Capturing auras. First off, auras don't even exist. But no one was listening to Shane that day, because of the so-called photographic evidence. You see, anytime Bacne Cream took a photo of anyone, anywhere, colors would randomly appear while it developed. Once he realized that these were visual representations of souls, Band Camp threw himself into his work.

Shane had heard about enough, so he was thankful when Bobo the Fool finally left for his lunch break. Suspiciously, he eyed the photographs laid out on Brad's desk. They were long exposure portraits of various angels and demons, some of which Shane knew and some of which he didn't. Each subject stood against a black background, gazing at the camera with a neutral expression. In the dim lighting, each figure was bathed in black and white, highlighting striking features.

What was unique about the photographs were the brilliant streaks of color across each film. Each subject appeared to descend out of a swirling, multicolored mist. It made every figure appear backlit, so they all looked like angels. Well, angel stereotypes. As annoyed as Shane was, he appreciates art. The colors were explosive, vivid, and encaptivating. Their full body halos reminded Shane of slow-motion sparklers, or fireworks erupting into technicolor against a dark sky. The mist varied as much as the personalities captured within. Somehow, Brace Face had captured that ethereal, glowing quality of long exposure, while keeping the subjects' facial features sharp and distinct.

Then Shane blinked and got over it.

Sure, it was pretty, but it had to be bullshit. There's no way these are "auras." But as much as Brunch encapsulates every terrible thing ever, he's not a liar. There must be something else going on. Shane took a quick glance around to make sure nobody was watching before he picked up the "sacred" camera. Pretty light for something that apparently holds demon souls. He turned it over in his hands, not quite sure what he was looking for. It looked normal enough. He twisted the lens and looked through the eyepiece. No auras there.

Taking another quick look around first, Shane turned the camera and snapped a test selfie. He stuck his tongue out, because that's what you do at psuedo-science. With a snap! the photo slipped out of the top opening. It came out all black. Shane shook it rapidly, because that's how you develop pictures, right? To his surprise.... he had an aura. No. Not an aura, because those aren't real. But Shane did have a kind of... color field? His unimpressed expression was clouded by a dull gray and violet haze, which certainly hadn't been there a minute ago. What in the world...?

But then it hit him: has anyone tried taking a picture of something that's not a demon? Shane directed the camera at the blank, white wall. Snap! The picture popped out. Shake! Shake! Shake! And.... an aura. Correction, NOT an aura, because walls don't have auras! Shane smiled with glee. So it was just a camera issue-?

Hot sparks cut off his train of thought, instantly answering his question. Shane dropped the camera before he could get burned. The sparks dissipated, leaving the camera looking deceptively innocent again. Oh my god... so it was just a faulty camera?! Once he was sure it was safe, he picked it up again. And the lenses... they're smudged. So that's why it looks blurry! And wait, these pictures can't be long exposure and instant at the same time...

OH MY GOD, BRENT BENEFIT COSMETICS "THEY'RE REAL" MASCARA IS AN IDIOT!

This was rich. This was so rich. And after all that bragging... Maybe God was real. Shane silently thanked her for the eternal mocking material. He laughed to himself gleefully. Oh, how the tables have turned.

And honestly, it'd be nice to not be the office idiot anymore. Shane's done quite a few dumb things at work, to your surprise. Now, someone else can get made fun of, and he gets the pleasure of laughing along. They had a staff meeting at four. Shane knows Saint Bernard will bring up his photography again, since he's been gallantly offering to take portraits all day. Could there be a more perfect moment to ruin him?

Shane must've gotten too caught up in his evil plan, because he jumped when he heard a small "Shane?" behind him. He spun around, still holding the camera. Bird Bath was standing there in confusion, holding a take-away box.

"This isn't... this isn't what it looks like..."

Bachelor in Paradise set the box on the table. Shane braced himself for the lecture and the Demon Resources report to follow. He slowly set the camera down.

"You were touching my camera?"

Duh?

"Um, yeah... I'm sorry." Demon Resources had seen way too much of Shane's face recently. Listen, he only put Barbie Girl's stapler in jello once! And it's not like there's a rule specifically against that in the handbook.

To Shane's surprise, Ballroom Dancer said, "It's okay, Shane. Isn't it amazing? I couldn't believe it either. I think this camera was... meant for me. Like, meant to find me. I think I can really make a difference with this. I've already helped my sister clear her aura, and she said she feels so much lighter now. Physically and mentally. She even started running again!”

Shane's not even going to ask what the fuck "clearing an aura" is.

Banana Almond Medley Cereal continued on passionately, "I know I'm really lucky. I've been blessed with an ability, and now it's up to me to do as much good as I can. I just hope my work is good enough for whoever sent this to me..."

Uh, no one sent it to him? He literally bought it?

Now was the moment.

"End him! Now!" hissed the devil on Shane's left shoulder. Huh, when did dad get up there?

"Let him have this tiny bit of happiness," urged the angel (stereotype) on Shane's right shoulder. "What's the harm, if it's not hurting anyone? It actually seems to be helping others. So what if it's a placebo?"

"HE IS A MORON!" the devil was throwing a tantrum, "MORONS DESERVE TO BE HUMILIATED!"

The angel patted Shane's neck comfortingly. A strange place to be patted. "You know, those who are truly confident in their intelligence don't feel the need to bring others down..."

Shane flinched as the devil screamed in his ear. "Make a decision, Shane Alexander!" Ugh, that's what Dad calls him. "Who's going to be the office idiot, you or Bake Off: The Professionals? Choose wisely," it jeered.

"Shane... you okay?"

Ugh, Backyardigan was always asking him that. But he had a point this time, considering Shane had been looking back and forth at literal air.

"Yeah, yeah. I'm good."

Banshee smiled warmly. "I'm just really grateful, ya know?"

"Yeah, I get it." Shane absolutely does not get it. "Best of luck with it, pal."

Let it be known that on this day in history, Shane Alexander Madej turned down an opportunity to be petty. He simply patted Brent's shoulder on the way out. Uh, Bigfoot. He means Bigfoot.

Shane's never told a soul. No pun intended.


And now, we return to the present moment. As Batman would say.

Boston, Philadelphia was still looking at him in disbelief. As were a couple other co-workers. This was certainly a rare moment. A moment that will hopefully end soon. (Please, Erin? Please?)

"I'm just saying... I've always liked your photography. The composition is really well done," Shane finished awkwardly.

Battlestar Galactica burst into tears. "Oh Shane, you really mean it?"

Shaney nodded stiffly. (TRY IT ONE MORE TIME, ERIN. I DARE YOU!)

"I knew you'd come around, I knew it. You do care!" he cried.

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Shane wouldn't go that far.

Bayleaf reached out for a hug-

"dOn'T tOuCh mE!!!" Shane squealed. BBC drew back. "God, were you even there for the harassment seminar last week? No unwanted physical contact. It's like you didn't even listen!" Shane was still ranting as he stormed off. "I have half a mind to report you to Demon Resources!"

Beverly Hills was still smiling as Shane walked away.


When Shane got back to his desk, he shuffled through his files until he found the test-selfie he had taken so long ago. But... wait. He gasped and held the photo up to the light. What had been a dull gray haze was now unmistakably gold. He still had the same belligerent expression, but the harshness was lessened by the soft, warm glow. And, of course, his eyes glittered. They almost seemed to betray the face he was making, as if implying there's something underneath.

Shane stood there for a moment in shock. This was definitely the same picture; it couldn't be another picture.

No. Auras can't be real. They can't be.

Right?

Credit goes to HALO Auragraphic Los Angeles.

Chapter Text

Ryan's been pretty pleased with himself lately. Sure, it kinda sucks that he doesn't get Shane all to himself anymore, but it was for the best reason. His demon has been learning that it's safe to open up, and okay to be himself. And now the rest of the world gets to experience the 6 feet, 4 inches of hilariousness, kindheartedness, and general ridiculousness that is Shane. You're welcome, everybody.

There was one tiny issue: Ryan is ridiculously, ridiculously in love with the idiot. And the last time he tried to "make a move", shall we say, well...


"So he just ran away?"

“Yeah,” Ryan chuckled lightly while his insides sank, “but he did stay for a good minute before he fled like Simba. That’s growth.” Ryan will take what he can get with this one.

"What did he say, exactly?" his mother asked.

"... That he left the oven on."

He had to wait a good minute for her to stop laughing. Eventually, he had to join in; the sound was too joyful.


Laughter flowed gracefully through the speaker on his phone. Ryan couldn’t help but smile along with her, feeling all the love and warmth in it.

The airy sound transported him to a time when he was younger, maybe six or seven. He’d just come home from school, after the first day of first grade, eager to share his day with his mother.

When Baby Ryan had gotten off that packed and rowdy bus, the screams and laughter still making his ears ring slightly, he didn’t bother going into the house. On a day like this, Momma was in her garden. She poured as much of her love into those plants as she did her children because in her eyes, there wasn’t any distinction between the two.

“Momma! Momma!” Ryan shrieked, excitement and impatience driving him to bolt towards the crouching figure in his backyard. As soon as she was called, the woman turned her head in his direction, a beaming smile that easily rivaled the sun instantly on her face.

She placed her gardening tools onto the ground, caked in mud and pieces of the murdered weeds that dared to threaten her children. “Is that you, Ryan?” she asked, her teasing nature everpresent. She swiped a wayward piece of her jet black bangs off her brow, smearing dirt onto her forehead. Not that she minded.

“Yes, Momma. It’s me,” Ryan dropped his backpack onto the grass and ran towards his mother. They’d both missed the other astronomically after a summer of spending every day together. He didn’t slow down or try to stop as he finally reached her, rather he attempted to tackle-hug Mrs. Bergara.

“You can’t be my Ryan, he’s not a first grader!” Linda chimed, wrapping her sun-kissed arms around her baby. He smelled sweat, earth, and roses. At this statement, her son pulled away so that he could look at her face.

He had her eyes. Kind and warm… the color of freshly brewed coffee. As she took in Ryan’s little face, all the love she felt for him warmed up her face even more. It was quiet except for a few distant lawn mowers and birds singing. It was the most comforting spot in the entire world, to be in the embrace of that dirty flannel and expressive eyes. “I was a kindergartener last year! I’m a first grader now!”

A sadness briefly passed over Linda Bergara. A nostalgia known to every parent reluctantly watching their babies grow up. “Oh, that’s right! I’m sorry, Ry.”

Ryan’s mother removed her once green gloves and set them down next to her tools. Her pink flannel, its glory days of vibrant red long gone, was rolled up to her elbows. All the exposed skin was splattered with dirt. Her long black hair was tied tightly into a bun with flyaways that reminded Ryan of the dandelions she worked so vigilantly to destroy. Linda’s light wash jeans had dark spots from kneeling in the flowerbeds all day. He liked Momma this way, with her free spirit glimmering in the dirt around her.

She was kneeling down, level to the standing Ryan. “Momma, guess what?”

“What, baby?” she chuckled, a delightful sound. Linda reached up and stroked the dark and fuzzy hair of her son, the excitement returning to his eyes.

“I made a new friend today!” he bubbled, bouncing up and down on the soft grass.

“Did you, now? What’s their name?”

“His name is Keanu and he’s really funny. He has black hair like me and he’s as tall as me, too! I met him when Mr. Halpert gave us our seats. Keanu sits next to me and he’s got a really cool dinosaur lunch box! Oh! And he told me this funny joke, do you wanna hear?”

“Of course, Ry!”

“Knock, knock.”

“Who’s there?”

“Wa.”

“Wa who?”

“What are you so excited about?!”

The two burst into excited laughter along, a melodic chorus of happiness that made you only want to join in on the fun.

It was this moment that made Adult Ryan long for his mother. It was suddenly and staggeringly clear just how far away Momma was.


The line was quiet for a moment as their laughter died down. Finally, Linda Bergara offered her maternal advice:

"Well, it's pretty obvious then. This Shane of yours is completely terrified."

"I really, really don't think I'm scary..." Could you find someone less intimidating than Ryan Bergara?

"Not of you, exactly," Mom clarified, "It sounds like he's been through some things."

"He has," Ryan agreed, not willing to give any more details. He'll break the news that Shane is a demon after they get together. If that ever happens. Thankfully, she didn't pry.

"Honey, I'm glad you've been patient with him, and I'm sure he appreciates it, too. But you're going to have to be even more patient."

"Seriously, mom?" It's only been what, 41 chapters?!

"Seriously, Ryan," she mimicked, sounding alarmingly close to his voice. Ryan laughed. "If you really like this man..."

Love. He loves this demon.

"... You have to let him come to you. In his own time. Shane has to feel safe and comfortable, and that trust can take a while to build up, especially if he's been hurt before."

Well, Mom gives better advice than Ricky, even if Ryan doesn't want to hear it.

"Yeah, I guess..."

"You know it's true, Ry. If you keep pushing him, he's just going to keep pulling away. Or literally running away." She chuckled. Ryan sighed. "But really, Shane sounds wonderful. And I'm glad he makes you so happy. I want this to work out, too, and I'd love to meet him some day. Promise me you'll be patient?"

"Yeah, yeah," Ryan grumbled, shoving the paper with lyrics on it back into his desk drawer. Too bad the subject of the song he wrote is never going to hear it.


At least Shane was coming over tonight. That game night was coming up and somehow, he had exactly zero board games of his own, so Ryan was going to teach him to play this badass Game of Thrones game that should earn him some new friends.

It was 9:59pm. Shane should be coming in any minute. Ryan resolved to "tone it back" this time, and not bring up love, feelings, feelings about love, or anything close to that. Sigh.

But then Shane Madej walked through the door:

"Ryan!" he exclaimed cheerfully, striding over and pulling him into a hug without hesitation. This was new...

"Haha, hey big guy," Ryan said into his shoulder.

"Hey yourself." Is it just Ryan, or was that tone a little flirty? Then he felt something soft briefly touch his forehead. Holy shit, did Shane Alexander Madej just KISS HIM?!?!

Ummm, guess this is what letting Shane come to him looks like?!

The demon pulled back and grinned, winking at Ryan's flabbergasted expression. Winking. Asdfghjkl.

"So where's this game of yours? I gotta learn to destroy my opponents, but like, in a nice way," he joked. Shane mussed Ryan's hair before walking into the living room, apparently expecting him to follow.

Ryan started after him for a long moment. What do you think he should do? The way he sees it, he has two options: (1) Confront Shane about his sudden boyfriend impression and confess his stupid feelings that seem blatantly returned now? Unless that was a "no-homo" type of forehead kiss. Or Ryan could (2) pretend everything is totally cool and put on a boyfriend impression of his own. According to Mom, option 2 was safest. Time to go with the baffling flow.

"Oh, I think I found it!" Shane called from the other room.

Ryan followed the voice. Here goes nothing?


When he entered the living room, his friend(?) looked different. Sure, still the same fluffy hair, unreasonably lanky body, soft eyes, and slight scruff, but his body language had taken a 180. Shane was sprawled out happily on the couch, not self-conscious about how much space he was taking up, for once. Ryan had always wondered whether Shane hunched due to poor posture, or if he was just so used to taking on that protective position in an attempt to hide inside himself. Looks like it's the latter.

Ryan cautiously sat down on the couch, giving the possibly possessed demon a healthy amount of space, just as Mom would recommend. The possibly possessed demon looked up from setting the game pieces out on the coffee table and smiled.

"Why are you sitting all the way over there, dummy? C'mere." He offered his arm out, as if inviting Ryan to cuddle. Holy shit.

Uhhhhhh. Go with the flow, go with the flow.

Ryan scooted over, inch by inch, just as he had on Lion King night. Again, he ended up nestled precariously against his crush's side, but this time, his crush seemed totally comfortable with it.

"Hi," Shane said softly.

"Hi," Ryan replied, just as soft.

Shane squeezed his shoulder. "Okay, now teach me how to make Jen's friends cry."

And Ryan did just that, pretending not to have a heart palpitation every time Shane rubbed his arm or said something flirty. Looks like you were wrong, Mom!


Of course, a few hours later, everything had to get fucking ruined.

It started out wonderfully. They were sitting on Ryan's bed, not cuddling anymore, but always making contact in some way. Their knees touched as Shane shuffled through a pile of story books. (It was his turn to pick.) It was easy enough to pretend this was normal, because it was, except for the way Shane would look up and smile warmly every so often. Asdfghjkl.

And then his almost-boyfriend(!!!) made the most innocent comment:

"Hey Ry, try not to burn the popcorn this time. I like you a lot, but not enough to pretend that what you made last time was edible."

"What?" Ryan had no memory of this. "I've never burned popcorn in my life, sir!"

Shane rolled his eyes and laughed. "That color said otherwise. It shouldn't be black, dude."

Guess this was a bit? But Ryan takes his popcorn making skills seriously. "Excuse you, you know I have that fancy new popcorn maker. I didn't pay $200 for it to burn things. I don't know what you're talking about."

Shane frowned. "I'm talking about last night. Literally last night."

Now Ryan was frowning. "We didn't hang out last night. Remember?" And it was easy to remember, considering they rarely go 24 hours without seeing each other these days.

Shane put the books down. "Yes we did! I don't get why this is funny."

"It's not?" Ryan questioned. "I thought you were the one who was joking? You know I never burn my popcorn."

"Yes, you did!" Shane insisted. "Because you were distracted. It happened right after we had that conversation about..."

"Conversation?” Ryan didn't remember any significant discussion. He would, considering he's spent hours sifting through Shane's words in his mind, trying to piece together if his crush returned his feelings.

Shane backed away from the bed, away from Ryan.

“Can you stop now? This isn’t funny. You’re hurting my... feelings,” he finished lamely, looking anywhere but Ryan.

Ryan’s jaw dropped while he floundered to think of a response. Shane never talks like that. What in the world is going on?

“Shane, I swear,” Ryan’s eyes were wide, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Shane looked like he was about to leave. Ryan jumped up and grabbed his arm.

“No... please stay. We can figure this out.”

“I...” Shane was speechless. The demon looked hurt. Shane was hurt. And apparently it was Ryan's fault. But what had he done?! Can you think of anything?

“Hey, sit down, okay?” Ryan led him back to the bed. “I’m gonna go grab us some tea.” He felt brave enough to briefly stroke Shane’s cheek, but not brave enough to see his expression afterwards. He quickly turned and headed towards the kitchen, leaving behind a distressed demon who he didn’t know how to help.


The kettle began with a low whistle. Ryan leaned back against the counter, lost in thought. He knew Shane had trouble expressing himself. Was this another odd way of expressing what he couldn't express? But this seemed so literal. Shane was claiming they'd been together last night when they clearly hadn't.

The hot water began to bubble. Hey, it's not like Ryan hadn't wanted to. Shane was just understandably exhausted from "bring your children to work day." So he'd simply popped in, boasted about his thirteen new adolescent friends, and pretended to storm out after Ryan teased him. He hadn't even gotten a chance to comment on that intricate hairstyle.

The whistle grew louder and more insistent. You know, being absolutely perplexed by Shane Madej was nothing new. It was just hurting Ryan that Shane was genuinely hurting this time. Just last week, Ryan's best friend had his eyesight spontaneously fixed. Shane was certainly freaked, but not upset, exactly. Once he'd calmed down, he wandered around the yard in wonder, pointing to new colors and asking Ryan to identify them. He seemed to be in awe.

Ryan set two mugs on the counter and pulled out some chamomile tea, the most calming flavor he had. The only other time he'd seen Shane close to tears... was when he had his first nightmare. Could this be-?

SCREEEEEEECH! Ryan jumped. The steaming water frothed over the sides of the kettle. He yanked out the plug, but the high-pitched whistle rang in his ears for long afterwards.

At least he knows what's going on now. He thinks.


For some reason, Ryan felt the need to break the news gently this time.

"Here you go." He offered the mug to Shane, who refused to make eye contact. Ryan couldn't shake the feeling that he'd done something horribly wrong. "Shane, can you look at me? Um, please?"

Shane glanced up, and Ryan was horrified to see his eyes were wet.

"Whoa there, big guy. What's wrong?"

Shane just raised an eyebrow, stubbornly refusing to speak.

"Oh, sorry, guess that was obvious..." Ryan trailed off. "You're upset because you’re remembering something that didn't happen. I get it, I'd be upset too..."

That protective position had returned. Shane was sitting as far away from Ryan as he could be on a twin-sized mattress, back hunched and arms crossed. Looks like this was a monologue.

"Um, I think I know what happened. You had another dream."

"No, I didn't. You can stop lying now." What?! "If you want to pretend last night never happened, fine. Just admit it," Shane said coolly.

And now Ryan was offended. "When have I EVER lied to you, dude?" His accuser looked up in surprise. "Unbelievable." Ryan stood up from the bed. "It's like you don't know me at all. All I ever DO is try to fucking help you-"

Those eyes were so lost, so genuinely confused that Ryan's anger evaporated.

"Okay, sorry, I'll stop yelling at you. I can tell you think you're telling the truth, even if I don't fucking understand a word you're saying." Ryan sighed. It wasn't easy dealing with the sullen teenager in front of him. "Let's figure this out together, okay? We always do. Why do you think this wasn't a dream?"

"Don't be condescending," Shane snapped.

Ryan resisted the urge to shout again, that he wasn't being condescending, he was just trying to figure out what the hell was going on.

Shane continued: "I know what a dream is. In the dream I had, I got fucking stabbed with a needle and then almost choked to death. This was nothing like that. It made sense." Shane took a breath. "I thought it made sense. It was good. For me, anyways. But don't act like you weren't happy, too."

Ryan did his best to ignore Shane's harsh tone. There was something he said in there... "Shane, you know dreams can be good, right?"

"What?"

"Yeah," Ryan said carefully, "Humans have good dreams, too. I'd say it's about 50/50. Or I guess, it depends on where you are in your life. I started to have a lot more happy dreams after I met you..."

Ryan mentally cringed at himself. What's a filter? If Shane couldn't see straight through him before...

"I've never heard of that," Shane said petulantly, "Why would a demon give a human good dreams? There's no point."

"I don't think it's demons, dude." Something was occurring to Ryan. "Maybe angels?" He could see Shane starting to protest.

"Or actually, no. I don't think anyone causes good dreams. They're just a part of us. It's our brain communicating with us. Usually about what makes us happy, what we love, what we're hoping for... Our unconscious desires, basically."

And that was what got through to Shane.

"... Oh. Looks like you're right, Ryan. As always." Shane laughed bitterly and stood up, expression unreadable.

"But I don't think I'm totally right this time? I don't understand why a good dream would make you upset. Please, can't you just talk to me?"

Shane shook his head. "No."

"Come on, I hate seeing you like this..."

"I'm sorry, okay? It's not your fault. I'm just... in a weird place right now." He shook his head again, like a dog trying to shake off water. What was he trying to get out of his mind?

"That's okay, you can be in a weird place. I'm not judging you." Ryan could really use his mom right now. She'd know what to say.

"No, it's not you!" The demon was getting frustrated again. "I'm just an idiot, alright? It literally means nothing, because it wasn't real. There's no use in talking about it."

"But..." No matter what Shane said, this still felt like their first fight.

"I have to go," Shane said abruptly. He turned and left before the human could even respond. Ryan didn't even get to say he'd left behind the board game.


Shane walked straight out of Ryan's door and then straight out of Inferno's door. For once, Bill of Rights didn't try to stop him. Must've been Shane's expression. Bow Tie just examined his co-worker with fucking pity as he stormed out, glaring at anyone he passed. Because Shane would rather appear angry than what he really was: close to tears.

Shane is such an idiot. What was he thinking? It's like Shane forgot who he is, and what his entire life has been like up until this moment. Of course it wasn't real. Of course. Shane's going to have to make sure he doesn't confuse dreams with reality again. Because the distinction is surely there, and boy is it harsh. Shane went home and went straight to bed.

"Who am I kidding?" he thought bitterly, "Why would Ryan Bergara want to be with me?”

Turns out, good dreams are worse than nightmares.

Chapter Text

Before we get started, Shane wants to acknowledge that yes, he was acting weird last chapter. No, he doesn't want to talk about it. You can just forget it ever happened.

This is a comedy, remember? It's practically a crack fic. It's supposed to be ridiculous. The story doesn't go any deeper than that. "Shane" doesn't go any deeper than that. If you're looking for anything more than some silly jokes, you're going to be sorely disappointed.

Shane's only here to make you laugh. He's just so dumb, right? It's hilarious. Don't go looking for other ~layers~, because there aren't any. And please, stop asking if he's okay. Shane's a demon, remember? Respectfully, demons don't "feel". At least, not the way humans do. And demons don't get "attached" to things. Certainly not like... humans. You know what he means.

So Shane is fine. He always is. There's nothing more to it, or to him.

That being said, let's stop wasting time and get back to the jokes. That's what you're here for, isn't it?


... Moving on.

Shane had forgotten the freaking game at Ryan’s, so he was stuck between a rock and a hard place: he could show up at Jen’s house with nothing but his horrific social skills, or be forced to face Ryan when he goes back to retrieve it.

Instead, Shane did what a normal person (demon) would do, and quietly entered the human’s apartment at the very narrow window when Ryan would likely actually be asleep: 4am-6am was his best bet. Stealthy Shane™️ carefully opened the closet door at 4:30am.

Observation #1: Man, was it dark. Demon sight is supposed to be better than this. Maybe Shane's new, but apparently not new eyes weren't so great after all.

Observation #2: This human really needs a better security system. It was way too easy to sneak in unnoticed. Ryan's lucky there's only one friggin' weirdo crawling around his apartment tonight.

Observation #3: Ryan’s laptop was still open at the foot of his bed, shining brightly. That's odd. Normally, he shuts it off before going to bed or it just shuts off by itself. And Shane had never heard Ryan snore before, especially so loudly. Maybe he's sick?

But anyways, sleeping Ryan wasn't cute. He was snoring like a pig, and drool was dribbling on the sheets, and he needed a good shave days ago. His curls went in all directions as he nuzzled deeper into his pillow. So yeah, not cute at all. Shane didn't want to run his fingers through Ryan's hair, making him smile in his sleep. And he definitely didn't want to pull up the covers and snuggle up with him. Demons are menacing creatures from the depths of Hell. They inspire fear in the bravest of souls, which means they don't snuggle. And Shane didn't want to stay to watch over such a tiny human with such a pitiful security system. You know, like a less serial-killy version of Edward Cullen.

To clarify, Shane's saying he didn't want to do those things.

Observation #4: Okay, Shane really can't see shit. The dim-witted intruder stumbled around the dimly-lit room. Eventually, he almost tripped over a box. Eureka! Shane picked it up and shook it quietly. Well, there's pieces in it, and it seems about the right size. It had to be Game of Thrones, right? It couldn't be anything else? Whatever, he's taking it.

Observation #5 (made when it was far, far too late): In the bright, artificial light of his office, Shane held up the box and groaned in dismay. He had inadvertently taken something called... Candy Land?


Once the intruder had left, Ryan sat up in bed and reached for his laptop again, wide awake. Yes, he'd been faking it that whole time, like a true adult. Because maybe he wasn't ready to face Shane, either.

After all, where were they supposed to go from here? Ryan just didn't know.


Here we go. Standing outside Jen's door, Shane read the directions on the back one last time:

"Candy Land is a fun, imaginative board game where players race through multiple fantasy locations to be the first to meet King Kandy. The game is suitable for young children, as it requires no reading skills, and only minimal counting skills. Since all players have to do is draw cards and move pawns, no strategy is required. Players only need to be able to follow simple directions."

Are you trying to say something, Erin? Just @ Shane next time.

"... Parents should note, however, that color recognition is essential for game play."

Wow, Erin. Just wow.

No, no, no. This won't do. Can't Shane have just one chapter where he doesn't embarrass himself? And more importantly, this is a night of many first impressions. Shane's never even heard of Candy Land, so he's going to assume other demons/angels haven't either.

Come to think of it... Ryan had given him a pretty in-depth lesson last night, before he'd torn Shane's heart apart. You know, like wrapping paper on a disappointing Christmas present. Shane's crush had yanked off the shiny bow, tossing it over his shoulder like it was nothing, snipped the painstakingly curled red, green, and gold ribbons, and ripped anything left into shreds, digging his nails in. All that remained were sparkly, striped scraps. Destined to be swept into the trash.

You know, if Shane had a heart. Haha. Hahaha. Emotional pain? He doesn't know her.

Anyways, Shane's point is that no one else was familiar with Candy Land. And he'd memorized the rules of Game of Thrones pretty well. Which means...


"So you're saying... Princess Frosting, Mr. Mint, Lord Licorice, Lolly, and Gramma Nut have to battle it out for the jelly bean throne?" Jen asked slowly, "And they must be willing to plot, break alliances, and burn down cities in order to conquer the seven kingdoms and achieve ultimate power?"

Shane nodded. "Yeah, the game starts with King Kandy as the occupier of the throne, but he's pretty easy to take down. His jolly rancher wall isn't completely impenetrable. You can even melt it down, if you can tame the fire-breathing piñatas. But watch out for the King’s gumdrop cannon! Oh, and speaking of the piñatas, if you can't tame them, you should kill them and rip them open, because you can use that candy to purchase new territory." Ah yes, that's how it goes.

Silence.

Feeling deterred by everyone's expressions, Shane explained further: "And mass slaughter of the gumball clan, bloody weddings, gratuitous incest between Peppermint Pat and Peppermint Patty... it's all fair game. Just remember, you gotta get it all done before winter comes. Because that's when Queen Elsa freezes everything, which means she wins by default. Uh, so basically love is weakness, and sugar is power." Can we all give Shane a round of applause for whipping this out of his ass?

"Queen Elsa?!" Qezza exclaimed. "So this is a Disney game?"

”Damn, this sounds even more sadistic than Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” Andrew commented, “I’m in, as long as there’s no oompa loompas. Those things are fucking terrifying.” Shane gave him a grateful smile.

"Hey, it kinda sounds like Game of Thrones!" Bohemian Rhapsody piped up, "That's my favorite show."

"Uh, not really, Baseball," Shane replied, "It's totally different." (It's totally the same.)

"Whatever," Bo Peep retorted, cracking his knuckles, "I'm gonna kill this. I'll show you who's the REAL baseball by the end of this!"

HAH! Can you imagine Buick Division of General Motors winning anything? Let's take a moment of silence for his pride. Shane just laughed, without any real malice.

"Aww, that's cute Bumper Car. But yeah, that's about it. I promise it's fun. It's all about strategy." Everyone nodded. "Oh, and one last thing..." Shane's expression turned deadly serious.

"Never. Trust. A cupcake."

All the demons cracked up, even Brazil. Shane felt a little (!!!) in his tummy at making everyone laugh.


And with the sound of a marching rhythm, pounding drums, and some seriously sick cello skills, the war begins...

Twenty minutes later, the pixie stix forest was ablaze. M&M had been violently assassinated by his bastard son, Skittle, impaled by his own sharpened candy cane. Skittle held the title for mere minutes, before Lolly mercilessly threw him to the animal crackers. He was devoured in seconds.

Andrew cursed, throwing the skittle at the nearest demon. "This game is dumb," he muttered as he stalked off to the snacks table.

Grandma Nut swatted at the endless expanse of gooey liquid, desperate to find her way out of her predicament. But it was of no use; this was surely the sweet old lady's demise. For if she tried to climb ashore she’d be met by rabid animal crackers eager to tear her into shreds. Her limbs were growing heavy and tired; she couldn’t keep this up forever. Accepting her grim fate, Grandma Nut sank under the surface of the chocolate fountain. She was nut worthy of the throne, anyways.

"Was that necessary?" Steven complained. He left to join the other losers.

Pursued through the forest by the Princess’s feral sour patch army, Lord Licorice wasn’t watching where he was going. This fatal error landed him right into King Kandy’s bubblegum traps. As soon as he felt the stringy pink tendrils, the lord knew his fate. “No!” His cries fell upon deaf ears. He frantically tried to rip the vines off, but they burned through his gloves and clothes. The horrid substance began to bubble through his skin. Shane grinned like the shark in Finding Nemo. Princess Frosting's victory was nigh. All that remained of Lord Licorice was a liquefied puddle of flesh and innards.

"Gross!!!" Qezza hollered, "Ugh, you guys suck." Jen smiled and took a bite out of Lord Licorice. Grumbling, Qezza got up and walked away. One less competition for Princess Frosting, soon to be Queen Frosting.

Little Lolly was screaming for mercy, fighting fruitlessly against the Nerd's Rope restraints. She was in a blind panic, quite literally, as her eyes had been pecked out by the dumdum sucker birds mere minutes before. Her cries echoed off the cold brick of the princess’s dungeon walls, but no one was coming to her aid. Then, to her horror, she heard the jangle of a chain being cranked. It’s begun. She shrieked in pain as the tension in her limbs increased. The torture was too much to bear. But there is no mercy in Candy Land. Lolly felt her tendons begin to snap, her bones crack, and her muscles tear. With a few final sickening cracks, her extremities were at opposite ends of the dungeon. Lolly had lost the game of thrones. Erm, game of candy.

"You all need therapy," Janet admonished. She threw the lolly pop at Shane, who shamelessly unwrapped it and popped it in his mouth. "Especially you, Shane!" The demon laughed darkly.

The forest burned to the ground. Out of the ashes rose the remaining contenders for the throne: King Kandy (Jen), Princess Frosting (Shane), and inexplicably, Mr. Mint (BB Gun).

King Kandy was going down, that's for sure. Early on, Princess Frosting had formed a political alliance with Mr. Mint (don't worry, Shane's totally going to throw him to the animal crackers later), so it was two against one. Before this, Mr. Mint hadn't been that much help, honestly. Bottle Neck had been mostly sitting back, observing the bloodshed with distant interest. Everyone had forgotten he was even there, which was the only reason he was still alive.

"YES!" Shane and Blazer roared in unison. Jen swore. Their army had succeeded in knocking down her jolly rancher wall with their push pop battering ram. King Kandy could only watch as his castle crumbled. Jen's reign was over.

Time for the final face off, on the precarious top of the hot fudge volcano, threatening to blow at any moment. The two finalists were surrounded by sulfurous clouds of ash, belching out of the fiery bellows below. But now wasn't the time for fear. It was time for ruthlessness.

Princess Frosting turned to Mr. Mint, ready to unleash her army of Sour Patch Kids upon him and end this once and for all. But for some reason, they weren't listening.

"Kids! Go on, do it! Attack Mr. Mint!" the princess commanded. She could almost taste her oncoming victory (sour, then sweet).

But still, the gummies just stared blankly. What had gotten into them?

"AND THAT'S AN ORDER!" Her majesty hoped the shout concealed her growing dread.

"They won't listen," said a treacherous voice behind her. She gasped delicately and turned, petal pink dress and golden curls twirling around gracefully. Mr. Mint stood mere inches away, with a grin that could only be described as insidious.

Mr. Mint's lanky limbs were covered in a dizzying spiral of red and white. He wore short, puffy pants held up by red suspenders, matching the pink tank top loosely fit on his torso. A scarf wrapped around his pasty white neck. An unassuming grin was spread across his childish face, rosy cheeks and red, round nose. Mr. Mint's hair was hidden under a pointy hat adorned with that same sickening spiral pattern. The worst of it? Mr. Mint wore the skin of gummy bears on his leather gloves, which served to prevent blisters from the swift swings of his peppermint axe.

"What... what do you mean?" Princess Frosting asked weakly. But she knew. The sour patch kids giggled as they surrounded the distressed damsel. She could smell the tang of artificial fruit wafting up her adorable little button nose.

"It's too late." Mr. Mint smirked. "They're only loyal to me now. You know, you really shouldn't have left your entire army with me when you hunted down Jolly in the cotton candy mountains."

Princess Frosting tried to flee, but she tripped on her own skirt, falling to the ashy ground. She crawled backwards in terror.

"You... you..." The beautiful young royal couldn't believe it. "You betrayed me? But I thought we had an alliance!" she shrieked, "I TRUSTED YOU, MR. MINT!" The children were closing in. The children she had trained and taught everything they know! She knew their deadly capabilities better than anyone. Things certainly weren't looking good for our hero...

"Oh, I think it's King Mint now," the traitor said easily. Malice burned just behind that calm tone. King Mint continued his obligatory villain monologue, slowly circling the devastated princess. "And trust... such a fragile little thing. You shouldn't trust anyone, princess. Not even your own father. Your King Frosting is a filthy liar. Did you know he had an affair with my mother, Mrs. Mint?" Princess Frosting gasped. "But the king never loved my mother; he was just using her as a political pawn for years."

"No, it's not true!" Princess Frosting sobbed. "My father was a good man! He loved Queen Frosting; he'd never betray her!" she protested. "And he treated his subjects well! He cared about them, unlike you!"

Mr. Mint ceased his predatory circling. "A good man? Would a good man KILL MY MOTHER?"

Princess Frosting's scream of shock and anguish echoed down the volcano. "NO, NO HE DIDN'T!"

"But he did," Mr. Mint assured her. "After all, I have no reason to lie to you now. Not when you're oh so very close to your demise..."

The hot fudge below bubbled dangerously. Princess Frosting could feel the heat begin to singe her luscious curls. After all that styling. What an outrage.

"That's right," he jeered, "Your father murdered my mother in cold blood, but not before they conceived a son..." The captive gasped. Her captor leaned in close. "A son named... Mr. Mint."

"YOU'RE MY BROTHER???" No, no, no... How could someone as gorgeous as Princess Frosting be related to someone as plain-looking as Mr. Mint?! Frankly, it was an insult.

"My mother gave birth mere months before her murder." Mr. Mint looked off into the distance for a moment. "I never even got to know her." Some genuine emotion flickered over his features for a moment. Maybe it was just a reflection of the lava.

The princess had to think of something, and fast. "But, wait! If my father was your father... we're family! We can be a family!" she begged. "We can rule... together! We don't have to be as bloodthirsty as our parents! WE get to choose our destiny! Please Mr. Mint; you're my brother!"

"HALF brother!" Mr. Mint sneered, "And you're no family of mine."

Princess Frosting began to sob, crystal tears falling from her huge blue eyes with flawless winged eyeliner. "Please... please... have mercy..."

"Hmmm. Well, they say family doesn't end in blood," Mr. Mint pondered, rubbing his chin.

His sister nodded vigorously in agreement.

"But I think it does," he said with an eerie finality.

His sister looked up in confusion.

"Kill her, kids."

Princess Frosting could only manage one last shriek before the sour patch children lifted her up and hurled her helpless body into the volcano. King Mint cackled with glee.

But it wasn't over yet.

The volcano began to shake.

The earth began to tremble.

Unnoticed, the hot fudge had began bubbling upwards. King Mint and his army were moments away from a firey death.

"What do we do, master?!" the young soldiers screamed in perfect unison.

"What should you do?" King Mint repeatedly mockingly. Out of nowhere, a piñata swooped over the crowd. The children screamed in terror, protecting their heads and crouching down. The ruler calmly flagged the piñata down and saddled its back. "You should... perish."

King Mint escaped on his flying piñata, laughing maniacally at the shrieks as his army was engulfed in boiling fudge. Who cares? After all, Brent Bennett had seven more kingdom's worth of armies.


Shane flipped the table.

Well, he tried to. Game Night has been a tradition for quite a while by now, so Jen had the table drilled to the floor for this very reason. Shane's attempted flip was much less satisfying.

But yes, the game was certainly over. And freaking Beach Ball had somehow bested them all.

I mean, really, who would have guessed that Bran Stark would win Game of Thrones?


“Okay, great! Now that everyone’s here, we can all pair up!” Jen said excitedly.

“Huh?”

“Oh right, Shane, I forgot you’re new to this. Normally, we divide up into teams for the rest of the games. The team that wins the most games gets their lunches paid for the next week by the other teams.”

“Oh, okay.” Shane can do that. “Do you want to be on my team?”

“Sorry, I’m with my girlfriend,” she said easily, hiding a smile. She gestured at the tall, blonde angel in the corner of the room. No, Shane's not hitting on Jen's girlfriend. She's literally an angel. An angel laughing boisterously and throwing back fireball shots, nearly knocking over Qezza with her grand pearlescent wings as she stumbled backwards.

“Andrew?”

He shook his head, smirking. “I’m with Steven, of course.” Steven looked over in surprise, blushing ever so slightly.

“Um, okay. Anyone else need a partner?” Shane asked, looking around the room. Why were they all snickering? All of them, except...

“No,” Shane said flatly, “Absolutely not.”

“Sorry guys, looks like you’re the only two left,” Jen pointed out, gesturing to Shane and the actual Zodiac killer.

“What?!” Bulldozer exclaimed, “No! You can’t do this to me, Jen! He acts like a child!”

“SAYS THE FUCKING ANTICHRIST!”

"Look who's talking, dumbass! You're literally the devil's son," Bronze pointed out.

Shane gasped. "Don't you dare bring my father into this!"

"Says the guy who brings his father into everything," Bong shot back.

"Why you little..." Shane growled.

Jen wasn’t even trying to hide her amusement anymore. Rude.

Blip rolled his eyes, "You know what, Shane? You'd be lucky to be my partner! I just slaughtered you all ten minutes ago."

Shane stuck his tongue out, proving he definitely wasn't a child.

"Come on, you two," Steven said encouragingly, "This is the perfect opportunity to work on your communication skills."

Both demons frowned and crossed their arms, in an eerily similar fashion.

Shane was about to throw a tantrum (an adult tantrum, thank you very much), but then he remembered the hurt expression on a certain human's face yesterday. You remember, when Shane had acted like a certified asshole. Maybe if he did this, it would make Ryan smile later. Or at least, not look at him like that. It wouldn't make up for everything, but it could be a good start, right?

"Fine..." he muttered, "I'll work with Birthday Suit if I have to."

"Ugh! You see what I mean, Jen!" Brush said indignantly, before turning to Shane. "If we have to work together all night, can't you at least call me by my NAME?"

Shane pretended to consider it for a moment. "Hmmm, I don't know. That's a lot to ask for, don't you think... Blister?"

Everyone laughed. Bullfrog groaned.


"Shall we get started?"

Chapter Text

Ten minutes later, a cluster of angels and demons sat in a circle around a small wooden structure, all holding deathly still. Carefully, Black Dahlia reached out and began wiggling a block towards the bottom, testing the tower's balance. It swayed precariously.

"No!" Shane hissed, hovering over him obnoxiously. “Why would you pick that one?! Go for the piece at the top!"

"Because... this... one... will... work..." Bavarian Cream furrowed his brow in concentration.

A few feet away, glass shattered. Jen's girlfriend, Tessera, had dropped her martini. Everyone froze. Bullet Vibrator held his breath.

"Don't get distracted!" Shane barked.

"You're the one distracting me!" Blurb whipped his head around to glare, effectively knocking down the entire Jenga tower. Shane pterodactyl screeched.


"And... time's up!" Shane and Brian groaned. They'd lost a game, again.

"Goddammit, Shane!" Brendan yelled in frustration. "I was the Dalai Lama, obviously! How could you not tell? I was meditating the whole time!"

Shane threw his hands up in the air. "FOR CHRIST'S SAKE, WHO THE FUCK CHOOSES THAT FOR CHARADES?"

“Whoa, whoa, it’s okay, guys,” Qezza placated. “We still have a bunch of rounds left. There’s hope for team #Brainy.”

“Brainy?” Shane questioned.

Boat’s face lit up. “Oh, because we’re smart?!”

“What?” Qezza shook her head. “No. Braney because Brent + Shaney. Duh.”

All the demons laughed, except for two very grumpy boys in the corner.


"WHY THE FUCK IS THIS GAME CALLED SORRY?! I KNOW YOU'RE NOT SORRY AT ALL ANDREW, SO YOU CAN GO AHEAD AND WIPE THAT STUPID SMIRK OFF YOUR FACE!"

(#Braney lost that game, too.)


These boys were fucking train wrecks, but they were surprisingly good at Scrabble. Team #Braney was neck and neck with team #Standrew. The tense game was nearing its end, and there wasn’t much space on the board left.

“Shane,” Bop said lowly, “If we can think of a 7 letter word that begins with “B”, we can get a triple word score.” He directed a pointed look to an open space in the bottom left quadrant.

Shane stopped shuffling their letters. “A seven letter word beginning with B?” He flexed his fingers. “I’ve got this.” He had, after all, been preparing for this moment his entire life.

“B-A-B-Y-I-S-H,” Shane spelled out loud as he placed the wooden tiles on the board. “Defined as having the appearance, behavior, or other characteristics of a baby.”

Shane doesn’t get why you’re laughing right now, but whatever. THEY WON!!!


Eventually, Shane noticed something interesting about Unlimited Soup, Salads, and Breadsticks at Olive Garden. Poor, stupid Breadsticks over there seems to be a little squeamish. Blanch actually blanched when Steven mentioned he'd brought Operation to the party.

It was a ridiculous game, even by Madej standards. A cardboard human was laid out on the "operating table," with numerous ailments to be removed. You have to reach in with metal tweezers to remove the butterflies in his stomach, or his anatomically inaccurate broken heart. You get the picture. But watch out! Because if your tweezers make contact with the metal edges... BUZZ! A buzzer goes off, his round red nose lights up, and congratulations! You just lost.

So that's how surgeries work. Go figure.

Anyways, Butt's queasy stomach was getting queasier by the minute. Every time he had to so much as look at the game, he became a touch paler. The demon began to twist his hands on his lap, tapping his left foot erratically. It was hilarious.

"Hey guys, how about we play Operation now?" Shane gleefully suggested. Everyone nodded in agreement. Shane elbowed Bleach as they made their way down to the basement. "Think you can take the lead on this one, buddy? I'm kinda worn out."

"Uh, um, I d-don't know... I don't r-really t-think I can..." Billie Elish stuttered. Shane snickered. They arrived to see the game already set up. Poor clown-nose had his plastic insides exposed for all to see, and his cartoonish expression was twisted into abject horror.

"Hahah, hey Buffalo Wing, he has a charlie horse!" Shane pointed to the stupid plastic horse nestled inside the patient's thigh. "Get it?!" He turned to nudge Balsamic Vinaigrette, only to freeze when he noticed his partner's expression.

Brandy was wiping at his sweating forehead with his sleeve, and he was pale as a living being could possibly be. His cinnamon brown eyes were bigger than planets; they had no soul in them anymore. To speak like Ryan: it looked as if he’d seen a ghost.

"Dude? You good?" Shane asked with concern. Ballad managed to break from his hazy, unfocused expression to look up at Shane. "Um, are you okay?"

"I'm fine," Barbell snapped, trying to push past him. Shane gently grabbed his arm.

"I don't think you are, man. No offense, but you look terrible." 

Baskin Robin's face had gone from white to red. "CAN YOU STOP INSULTING ME FOR FIVE FREAKING MINUTES? LET'S JUST GET THIS FUCKING THING OVER WITH!"

Whoa. The party had gone awkwardly silent. Boiling Point was at his boiling point. Shane's not enough of an asshole to try and genuinely upset his least favorite co-worker, so he'd only seen it a few times. But even if a volcano only erupts every couple hundred years, it's still a fucking volcano.

"Alright, I'm sorry." Shane placated, "Really, I am." Believe it or not, he is. "It's okay, dude. Just breathe, alright?"

But Bozo seemed to be having trouble doing just that. His ragged breaths were uneven as he bent down to brace himself on his knees. Shane felt genuinely bad for the anti-christ.

"Hey, how about we go outside and get some fresh air?" Shane suggested. He needed to get this ticking time-bomb away from everyone. "You know, before you really do become the zodiac killer..." He laughed awkwardly, trying to reduce the tension. Wrong move.

“How many times do I have to tell you, I’m NOT THE ZODIAC KILLER!” Blink-182 shouted. Everyone backed away even further.

Shane held his hands up defensively. "Okay okay, I hear you... And literally everyone hears you because you're kind of screaming."

For the first time, Brevity Is The Soul of Wit, But Ao3 Needs Your Comment To Have Text In It became aware of their surroundings. He flushed deeply. "Here, come on, let's go out onto the back deck." Shane slung his arm protectively over Booze's shoulder as he led him out. He didn't need to be any more embarrassed than he already was. Luckily, Shane's 6"4' body served as an effective shield.

"Um, do you want us to wait for you guys?" Jen asked awkwardly.

"Nah, that game is dumb," Shane called over his shoulder, "You can just say we lost." That earned him a relieved smile.


The two demons stepped out into the cool September air, eyesight adjusting to the sudden darkness. The only light glowed from the strings of amber bulbs above them. The humidity that had fluffed up Shane's hair the second he'd stepped outside that morning had descended onto the grass, shining with dew. Shane motioned for Bug Spray to join him in sitting on the steps of the wooden porch, with their backs to the rowdy party behind them. The forested yard seemed to span indefinitely before them, with the gaps between the maple trees shrinking smaller and smaller until it became impossible to distinguish between them anymore.

A nice place to recover from a near mental breakdown, wouldn't you agree?

“Why are we here, Shane?" Buttermilk asked begrudgingly.

"We're ~here~ because you need to chill, dude. Your blood pressure's probably so high, you're about to give yourself an aneurysm at the ripe old age of 29."

“Shut up, Shane. I’m fine," Blackberry Bush grouched. "And if I weren’t, why would I trust you to help me?”

"Okay, you're fine if you say you are... I just think maybe you should, you know, start breathing at a reasonable pace like someone who's not about to punch a hole through a wall." Black Tie probably shouldn't watch WALL-E, either. "And you make a fair point," Shane admitted, "I guess you really can't trust me, so I'm just not gonna do anything. How about we just sit out here and like, breathe... wait!" Shane perked up. "I have an idea!"

“Does it involve you making a fool of me?”

"Nah, you can do that on your own. No, I was thinking about your dumb meditation videos that you blast every day after lunch. They help you breathe, right? Isn't the whole thing about breathing?" Shane doesn't know why you'd need a tape to remind you to breathe, but if it works it works.

“Fine. Fine, fine, whatever.” What a pushover.

"Alright, yeah I guess I'll, like, walk you through it... Uh, close your eyes." It's probably not surprising that Shane had never done this before.

“I swear if you pull some bullshit when I close my eyes, I’m never going to speak to you again.”

"Aw, you promise? I wish it was that easy...." Boulevard of Broken Dreams shot him a dirty look. "No, no I swear, I'm trying to help." You believe Shane, right?

Backstreet Boys crossed his arms. “Swear on Ryan, then we’ve got a deal.”

"Ryan? Uh, that's a random person to pick, I don't know why you would think..." Shane gave in. "Fine. Okay yeah, I swear on Ryan. You good now, Bracelet?"

“Fine. Whatever, this night can’t get any worse.”

"That's the spirit." It was hard to tell in the dim lighting, but Beaker might've cracked a smile. "Alright, close your eyes. Here, I'll even close my eyes too..."

Bladder reluctantly shut his eyes, and Shane joined soon after.

"Um, okay uh, breathe deeply... Um, what did those tapes say again?"

“Shouldn’t you be helping me, not the other way around?” Well, that's ungrateful.

"Shut up and be calm. Okay, uh, try to stay in the present moment... yeah, alright so try to feel the wooden porch beneath you... ow fuck, I think I just got a sliver, but ignore that. Um, what can you smell right now?"

“I can smell that onion dip on your breath. You wanna move away from me a little?"

"Fuck you. Well, I can smell Jen's citronella candle, which really isn't doing its job." Shane slapped at his ankle. "Ouch, I think I just got bit again. Whatever. What can you hear right now?"

“You not shutting the hell up.” Ugh!!!

"LISTEN, WHY DON'T YOU JUST TELL YOUR CHAKRAS TO CALM THEIR TITS?”

“THEIR TITS WOULD BE CALM IF YOU WEREN'T SUCH AN ASS ALL THE DAMN TIME, BITCH!”

"BOUY, THIS IS LITERALLY THE ONE TIME I'M NOT BEING AN ASS! CAN YOU JUST-" Shane took a deep, cleansing breath. "Huh, that actually helped a bit. Okay, back to the relaxation... breathe in 1...2...3... breathe out 1...2...3... Count with me. I'm assuming you know how to count."

“I’m surprised you know how to, actually.”

"I'm ignoooooring you because I'm in my happy place..." Shane sang. "You go to your happy place too, Burrito."

Burrito didn't respond. Which was the most encouraging thing he's said this whole time.

"Um, alright, so focus on your breathing... and if your mind wanders, it's cool. Just come back to your happy place," Shane said soothingly. The two actually seemed to be meditating now. "Try to relax each muscle in your body, and just feel the fucking nonsense float away..." If Shane had opened his eyes, he would've noticed Bracket was smiling. "If you start having negative thoughts, don't let it concern you, just acknowledge that all that shit is fucking bullshit..."

Baptist chuckled. Shane smiled with his eyes closed.

"... You're here now, in your inner world... those bitches can't get under your skin..." Brutus giggled. Shane found he liked the sound. He wanted more. "They... They can't piss all over a purity like this!" Honey Badger laughed out loud. "And if your mind shifts to the three-ring shit show of your life, just bring your attention back to your breathing..."

Both boys were cracking up now, shaking with the effort to not open their eyes.

"Take full, deep breaths. Breathe in strength," Shane demonstrated with a big inhale, "Breathe out bullshit." The two exhaled in unison. "And with each breath, feel your body saying fuuuuuuuck that..."

"Fuuuuuuck that," Baldie echoed, giving Shane a big smile, which was promptly returned. "Thank you. That actually helped. And um, Shane?"

Shane waited to let him speak.

"I can tell you're upset, too... And I'm here for you, you know, if you want..."

"What? I'm not upset! I've been having such a great time. These games are fun, and I'm actually making friends!" Barn Yard looked at him with sympathy. He always did see right through Shane.

"Alright, yeah," Shane said quietly. "I'm... sad. I did something the other day. I messed up, big time. I said some stupid things, and I hurt someone I really care about."

They both knew it was Ryan. Barnes and Noble was graceful enough not to vocalize that.

"It's okay, Shane. We all say stupid things. I mean, remember when I was literally screaming fifteen minutes ago?"

Shane laughed. "Yeah, you sounded nuts." Bed, Bath, and Bodyworks elbowed him.

"My point is that we all hurt the ones we love sometimes. It’s inevitable.”

Love?! Shane didn't know where that came from. Why would Benefit Dinner think...? But he kept listening.

"What really matters is apologizing, and learning from your mistakes. If this person cares about you half as much as you care about them, I think forgiveness will come pretty easily..."

Shane almost smiled. "I'm afraid," he admitted in the quietest possible voice. It was almost a whisper, even though there was no one around to overhear. "What if Ryan doesn't want to see me anymore?"

Easter Basket didn't react to the sudden name reveal.

"Ryan wants to see you. That I can tell you for sure. He's missing you like hell right now, Shane. And don't forget, you're soulmates."

Alright, this conversation was getting WAY too cheesy. Shane could ruin it with an insult, or a dumb joke, or a combination of both. Instead...

"Come on," Shane stood up and offered his hand to help Baller stand up. Baller took it. "Let's go back inside."


The boys returned to the pleasant discovery that it was finally, finally, the last round. Charades, of course.

Birthday Party held two fingers up. Shane nodded, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees.

"Two words, got it."

Immediately, Baltic Avenue brought his hand to the back of his head, only the "V" of his fingers visible.

"TV Antenna? Victory day? What?"

Blazer rolled his eyes and changed tactic. He held both hands on top of his head, fingers curled forward and to be honest? That doesn't help Shane at all.

"What the fuck is that suppose to represent? Horns? Baby demon horns?" Shane guessed, "Come on! Help me out here, dude!"

Exasperated, Ted Bundy kept his hands on top of his head, but started bouncing around the living room, ass out and shaking from side to side. Which, frankly, was an image Shane's gonna have to bleach from his brain once he gets home.

"Baby demon on a sugar high?" Shane guessed. Seriously, what was this idiot doing?

"That's way more than two words, though," Jen pointed out. Shane flipped her off, not taking his eyes off of the abomination that Bavarian Cream was currently enacting. He sort of looks like a rabbit...

"THE ENERGIZER BUNNY?!"

Babbling Brook stopped in shock to stare at Shane.

"Is that it?!" Shane exclaimed, hope rising in his chest. It seemed enough to shake Babylon out of his surprise. They were, after all, still on a timer here. He shook his head no and Shane deflated. But Bar Stool held out his hand and tilted it in the universally known gesture for almooost, which pumped Shane up all over again.

Belize started again on the bunny routine. Shane named them all, in rapid succession: Roger Rabbit, the Easter Bunny, the Playboy Bunny. How many freaking bunnies are there?!

Exasperated, Bartholomew leaned back on a shelf in Jen's living room, miming the action of munching on a carrot with an extremely bored expression on his face. The light bulb went off.

"BUGS BUNNY!" Shane yelled victoriously as he lept up from the couch.

"YES!" Bugs Bunny yelled back triumphantly. Finally! Somehow, the two end up hugging, jumping up and down in excitement.

"We get a point! We get a point! We get a point!" they chanted in between fits of giggles and wheezes... until Jen cleared her throat.

"Except you don't."

"What?!" They both exclaimed, stopping their jumping to turn to look at her, still holding onto each other.

"Time's been up for like 5 minutes. At least."

"Why didn't you tell us?!"

"It was worth it," she says with a shrug, gesturing at the warm embrace before her.

SNAP!

Shane and Brad jumped back like they'd been burned, while all their friends burst into peals of laughter. "EWWW, GROSS!" Shane squealed. Brad started vigorously brushing off his clothes, as if he could brush the Shane off of him.

"DID YOU JUST TAKE A FUCKING PICTURE?" Shane roared.

Andrew just smiled while a few demons exchanged bills in the background. Had this been a bet?!

"Hey! That's mine! Give me my camera back!" Easy Bake Oven dove for it. Andrew easily stepped out of the way.

"Sure, sure... as soon as it prints. Wow, this is going to look great hung up in our office!"

Shane didn't know when. He didn't know where. All he knew was somehow, some way, he was getting that picture and burning it to a crisp.


The doorbell rang, a dreamy twinkling of bells and strings. Was that a harp? Jen bounded over cheerfully to get the door.

"Oh," Beeswax said softly, looking in awe towards the source of the sound. His eyes were misty and disbelieving, a deep crimson blush blooming on his cheeks.

Shane turned his head to see three figures in the doorway, silhouettes illuminated by the soft lighting of the front porch.

The angels were here.

Chapter Text

Shane stood outside Ryan’s door. He’d never hesitated so much in this spot. For the first time, he noticed some chips on the wood. He ran his fingers over the jagged edges. Some of the cream colored paint was peeling. Shane tried to push a rogue strip of paint back into its proper place, as if it were that simple. It didn’t work, of course. The peel sprung back to its original position: curling away from the door, as far away as it could be from something it was so intimately close with.

Out of his reverie came a concrete thought. It occurred to Shane to try something he’s never done before: knock. You know, like someone with actual manners. Normally, Shane would just barge in, at any and all times when he needed his best friend. He never considered whether it was convenient for Ryan, and Ryan never considered putting Shane’s needs below his own.

Shane’s been a real jerk, hasn’t he?

Here’s to hopefully becoming less of one:

Knock, knock, knock.

There was a pause. Shane’s stomach took a nose dive. What if Ryan didn’t answer? What if he never did? The thing about not barging in is then you have to be invited. What if Shane wasn’t ever invited back into Ryan’s world-

“... You can come in, Shane.” Yikes, that was a serious tone.

Shane slowly opened the door, hovering awkwardly at the entrance. Ryan looked up, as if he was expecting him to say something.

“Um, hey... old sport.” Shane laughed awkwardly, nervously tapping his fingers on the door frame. The joke fell flat. Not that it was much of a joke, anyways. “Can I come in?” Ryan raised his eyebrows. “Oh right, you just said I can, haha...” Shane stepped in and shut the door behind him.

Still, his best friend just sat there, at the head of his bed, waiting for Shane to say something. Looks like this was a monologue. Which was only fair, considering this is exactly what he did to Ryan last time.

“So, um, I came here because...” He’d never had to justify it before. That stung. “Well, y’know, I like you.”

Something glimmered in the human’s eyes. Hope? Was Shane saying the right thing?

“Yeah, I really care about you. You’re my friend, Ry. My best friend.”

Something died in the human’s eyes. Looks like Shane said the wrong thing again.

“But that’s not the main reason! Not tonight, anyways. I’m sorry, what I’m trying to say is... well, that I’m sorry,” he finished lamely.

“Alright, thanks,” Ryan said, without much emotion to it. He looked away and crossed his arms. “It’s fine.” His tone didn’t match his words. The warmest person Shane knew sounded freezing.

“I really am. I acted like a total jerk the other night. Like a demon. A demon stereotype, haha...” Another joke that fell flat. Shane took a breath. “You know what? It’s time for me to stop with the jokes and cut the bullshit.” The right time was approximately 30 chapters ago, so your patience is appreciated.

That’s what broke Ryan's impassive expression. He looked up in surprise.

“Yeah," Shane confirmed. "I’m done with that now, because you deserve better. Much better. You deserve a best friend who's honest, and straightforward. Not my strength, obviously, but y'know...” Shane trailed off, glancing down at his shoes.

Hey Erin? Never write Shane a monologue again. Thanks.

He tried again. “But yeah, you’ve always been honest with me, and I know that. I always did. It must’ve been really hurtful when I called you a liar for no reason. And you’re so genuine, Ry. I shouldn’t have attacked your character, out of fucking nowhere... You did nothing wrong; I hope you know that. You’ve done everything right, um, with me.”

Enough to send Shane straight into an emotional crisis and question his very identity, damn.

“The other night was all just me, projecting. It’s hard for me to trust anyone, and I’m sorry I took my issues out on you. You’re just so kind, and genuine, and patient... it’s hard to believe sometimes. Like, what’s the catch?” Shane laughed lightly, and was pleased when Ryan finally smiled a little. “I just... haven’t met anyone like you before. Humans or demons. So you’re kind of like, incomprehensible to me.”

Ryan smirked. “What, like I’m a cryptid?”

Shane gave him a goofy grin. “A genuinely good, decent person in the year 2020? Absolutely.”

Ryan laughed a little, before becoming serious again. “But I still don’t understand. At all. What did you dream about that made you so upset?”

Shane’s sorry. Not just to Ryan. He’s sorry to you, the reader, as well. He just can’t be pushed any further tonight. He’s already well past his limits.

“I can't share that. I'm sorry.”

Ryan crossed his arms and looked away again, clearly not satisfied with that unsatisfying answer.

“But I did want to say, um...” I’m freaking out because no one’s ever cared about me like this. I’m freaking out because I have a crush. Heck, much more than a crush at this point. And on a human, no less. I’m freaking out because I’ve handed you the power to crush me (oh, maybe that’s why it’s called that), and it’s up to you what to do with it.

I’m freaking out because I can’t get close to you, but I can’t lose you, either.

That was a loaded pause. Ryan was still waiting.

“I wanted to say... can I fix your door?”

“What?”

“Your door,” Shane repeated, turning around to take an inspection. “It um, has some cracks that need to be filled in, and the wood is chipped in some places. It’s peeling, too. It'd probably be better to just repaint the whole thing. And the hinges are rusty. They squeak.” Shane pulled the door back in forth in demonstration. Creaaaak. “See? That’s probably why I wake you up every time I come over...”

Ryan frowned. “I never really noticed, but okay?”

“I just... you deserve a nice door, Ry,” Shane said softly. We can all agree on that, can’t we?

“I mean, it doesn’t bother me, but sure. You can repair it, if you really want to...”

“I would,” Shane assured him. He closed the door gently. “I’d really like to fix this.” It was something tangible, physical that he could improve on. And having an excuse to spend long hours over at Ryan’s was just a bonus.

Ryan smiled. “Alright.”

Shane rubbed the back of his neck. “So, um, do you forgive me? Like, is there anything else I can do? Because just say the word, and I’ll do it-”

Ryan cut him off. “Of course I forgive you, idiot. Now bring it in, big guy.” He opened his arms invitingly. Oooh. Nothing like free serotonin, am I right?

Shane walked over and hugged his best friend, so enthusiastically that he lifted Ryan off the bed and into his arms. Not hard to do with someone so tiny. Ryan giggled happily, and click! Everything was back into place.

"But one more thing," Ryan said. Shane set him down and the two stepped back a reasonable distance. Sigh. "I wasn't really mad at you. I was hurt."

And isn't that just so much worse.

"You were acting weird, and you wouldn't explain what was going on. And then you got all closed up and just left... When you didn't come back for a week, I was starting to worry if you'd even come back at all. It's kind of a one way communication, dude. Considering you can step right into my world, anytime you want, but I can't enter yours. Not unless you let me in."

Oh.

Oh.

Oh.

And to think Shane was worried about Ryan not wanting him back.

"I want to let you in..." Shane said shyly. "I'm trying, really I am. It's just hard, for me..." It's not like Shane's had any role models for emotional intelligence or healthy relationships. And don't you dare suggest Boomerang.

Ryan smiled softly up at him. "I know. It's alright. You can take all the time you need. I just hope you know that it's okay, not to be okay. Vulnerability is okay. Right?"

Ugh, don’t you hate when Bill Nye the Science Guy is right?

"Right." Shane was starting to believe that. "So I just... are we good, Ry?"

“Absolutely, big guy. Just don’t shut me out again. Please.” Those big, brown eyes were earnest, and Shane desperately wished he could tell Ryan what he wanted to hear. Instead...

"I can't promise I won't ever do it again," Shane said honestly, "I think it's like, ingrained in me now? Jackassery is my default."

Ryan laughed and nudged him on his arm. "Sureee it is, you big softie."

Why does everyone keep calling Shane that? Ugh!

"But I promise I'll try my best not to," Shane finished. "I do have to go now, though."

"You're leaving again?" Ryan asked in a small voice.

"No, no." Shane gestured at the rickety door behind them with a grin. “I just have to go get some tools."

If Shane had known Ryan was going to smile that brightly, he would've brought his sunglasses. Oh! Maybe that’s why it’s called “beaming”.

Chapter Text

"Who are they?" Booger asked in awe.

Three gorgeous angels tucked in their vast wings and stepped into foyer. Everyone in the near distance was stunned, but these women didn't seem to notice they had just taken everyone's breath away. Or maybe they were just used to it.

Each was taller than the last, snowy wings contrasting with skin dark as night. With their similar features, the three had to be sisters. Sisters who’d certainly out-dressed everyone at Jen's party, with silky pastel dresses fluttering around their thighs.

If Shane had any shred of heterosexuality left, he would've been very interested. Instead, he was jealous. These three managed their tall heights with all the grace he's never had. Shane was so used to slouching and bending down to accommodate others; he wasn't sure he knew how to stand up straight anymore. Meanwhile, each had accentuated her long legs with glinting silver heels that winked at him from across the room.

So spatially speaking, they were looking down at Jen, who was quite a few head shorter. But they weren't really looking down at Jen. Each embraced her with the exuberant smiles and delighted laughter of old friends. Despite their heights, the new guests weren't intimidating; they had an inviting glow. Figures. To no one's surprise, angels tend to be pretty nice. It's a self selection thing; the same reason why nurses and social workers tend to be kind and empathetic, they signed up for this because they genuinely want to help. Demons are genuinely a bit sadistic. But to each their own.

In the rag-tag group of demons in flannels and sweaters, the guests stuck out. But not like sore thumbs. They didn't try to hide their differences, but they weren't flaunting them, either. The angels just... existed, without the need for justification. It was contagious. He liked them already.

While Shane had been watching the new guests with a distant curiosity, Benny and the Jets looked starstruck. Shane smirked when he noticed Baklava eyeing a certain angel in particular, the shortest of the group, in a cinderella blue romper. She had a head full of smooth, black curls, twisting gracefully around her heart shaped face in that effortless way that lowkey takes a lot of effort. Two loose ringlets accentuated her high cheekbones and long lashes.

In contrast to her two sisters towering above her, this angel appeared more reserved. Shane got the impression that she wasn't shy, exactly, just not as confident. After all, she was quite out of her element here, as a literal angel in literal Hell. The woman smiled genuinely at Jen, but that smile faded as she surveyed the house full of strangers, biting her lip and curling her wings around her petite frame.

"She's pretty, huh?" Shane asked snidely, nudging Back At Square One.

"Pretty doesn't even begin to cover it..." Babe in the Woods sighed dreamily. The angels left the foyer to mingle happily with other guests.

"Well, what are you still doing with me? I know we're best friends and all," Shane said SARCASTICALLY, "But wouldn't you rather be getting to know Miss Feathers over there?"

Brain Food finally tore his eyes away. "You can just... do that? Like, go up to her?"

"Yeah?"

Bratz Doll leaned back, rubbing his neck bashfully. "I wouldn't know what to say..."

Shane snorted. "Just introduce yourself, idiot."

"I don't know... She's talking to someone else right now anyways.” He subtly gestured at Miss Feathers enduring one of the infamous Qezza monologues, patiently nodding while her left wing impatiently tapped on the floor behind her.

"Come on. Stop stalling." This was going to be hilarious, and Shane was impatient to watch his arch-nemesis make a fool of himself.

"Maybe I can just wait for Jen to introduce me?"

"Stop being a coward and go do the thing, Butt Head," Shane said supportively, "Look, she just excused herself to go get a drink. Now's your chance."

With one last nervous glance backwards, Baby Beluga meandered over to his impending doom. That's what a crush is, right? Shane casually shuffled over to the snacks table so he could overhear. Of course, he'd prefer popcorn for this comedy show, but cheese and crackers will do. Especially if it's cheddar. Crunch!

"Um, hello..." Okay, he definitely needs to speak up. Shane can barely hear the secondhand-embarrassment. He gave Bouquet a thumbs up over her gigantic wings.

Miss Feathers turned and smiled, holding a glass of chardonnay in her hand. "Hi, there," she said warmly. She had a voice as melodic and kind as a kindergarten teacher's.

Benedict Cumberbatch must've noticed. His pupils dilated, and dilated, and dilated... Oh, no. His eyes had gone entirely black. Shane almost choked on his cracker. This was even cringier than he thought. Oh, this was rich. He couldn't wait to tell Ryan.

Miss Feathers looked a Accidental Boner with concern, one wing arching up and one tilting down. "Um, are you alright? Your eyes..."

"My eyes?" Blasphemy Charizard said stupidly, "Oh!" He blinked a few times, his irises returning to the usual cinnamon brown. "Um, sorry, haha... allergies..." Shane laughed into his red solo cup. Oh, lord.

She smiled sympathetically, not knowing how to respond to the ridiculousness that is Butterfree Chickenstrips. Fair. Neither said anything after that.

Shane waved in the background like a lunatic. Introduce yourself, Blue Balls! he mouthed.

"Um, s-so I c-came over here because I wanted to, I w-wanted to introduce my-myself, I'm Blue Balls."

Miss Feather's wings hit the ceiling while Shane muffled his surprised laughter into a napkin. How lovestruck do you have to be to forget your own name?! His ribs were vibrating with the effort not to wheeze.

Of course, poor Blue Balls instantly realized his mistake. "No, no, I'm sorry! That was a joke! Just a joke!" he explained frantically.

"Um, okay?" she said, looking perplexed. Her wings were gradually wilting from this painful conversation.

"I also wanted to say, um, you know, uh... did it hurt?"

Miss Feathers was slowly backing away now. Can't blame her. "Did what hurt?"

"You know, when you fell from heaven! Haha..."

SMACK! Oof, that facepalm was going to leave a mark on Shane's forehead. But it was so worth it. Shane only wished he had a video camera.

"Oh, uh, I didn't fall, so it didn't hurt. I have, ya know..." Miss Feathers gestured back at the wings she so obviously had. Shane could’ve sworn the left one did a sarcastic little wave.

"N-No, no, I meant... Never mind. Excuse me," Butterfingers said regretfully, his shoulders slumping as he walked away. She simply frowned in confusion. Oh, how the not mighty have fallen. (Not from heaven.) Heh.

Shane didn't even try to hold in his snickering as Uniform Bar Examination passed by. "Congratulations, Bass Drop!" He clapped sarcastically. "That was, truly, a mess."

"I know," Buckingham Crackerjack lamented morosely, "I don’t know why I even tried. I'm just gonna grab my stuff and go home." He trudged away in defeat.

Shane frowned after him. Hmm. Turns out watching the downfall of Lord Voldemort wasn't nearly as fun as you’d think.

He scanned the room for Miss Feathers, who was still lingering alone by the snack table, looking out of place at such a lively party. And with that, Shane made up his mind.

Shane strode over confidently, extending his hand. "Hi, there! I'm Shane."

Her wings perked up, and she happily shook his hand, her whole demeanor brightening instantly. “Hi! I'm Clavis."

"Clavis? That's an interesting name," Shane remarked conversationally.

"Thank you, it means "key." It's the name I choose when my assignment was finalized. You're looking at the angel of finding lost car keys," she did a mock curtsy and laughed lightly.

Shane chuckled. "That's oddly specific. Didn't have many options?"

"Nope. At this point, almost every category of prayer has already been delegated," she explained, "So I don't get to bring fathers home from war or cure cancer or anything like that. But I'm honestly fine with it." She shrugged. "It's not stressful, and I'm still making a difference."

"I can see that," Shane mused, "I don't have a car, but there's nothing more frustrating than losing my house key. And Jen tells me Tessera is stressed pretty often with her assignment. She’s the angel of winning lottery tickets, so she's gotta be super careful with those statistics..."

"There you go, then! Yeah, it's not too bad, and it definitely could be worse. I enjoy what I do."

"That's great! So, I saw you were talking to that demon earlier..."

"Um, Blue Balls?" Her brows furrowed as she scanned the room for him, left wing raising up like a visor.

"No, no!" Shane laughed it off. "Hah, what a funny guy. No, that's my friend Brent! I get the sense that he butchered his first impression, but he's a great dude."

Her dark eyes found Big Bird brooding in the corner. She reconsidered. "I mean... I get it. First impressions are hard. I felt super awkward before you came up and introduced yourself, so thanks for that," she said gratefully.

"Oh sure, you're welcome, no big deal," Shane waved his hand dismissively, "I'm just bummed you didn't get to talk to Brent more. He really turns the demon stereotype on its head. Honestly the nicest one I know. He's a hard worker and he genuinely cares about everyone. To the degree that it's almost infuriating, actually." Shane laughed lightly. Only you readers know how truly insufferable this man is.

"Really?" She looked him up and down appreciatively.

"Definitely," Shane continued, laying it on thick now, "He's got quite an artistic side, too. You should ask him about his photography. He does portraits. He's got this excellent way of capturing personalities with just a single shot."

"Oh!" Her eyes lit up. "I'd love to see it. I'm a photographer myself. Actually, I don't know if I can call myself that. I'm more of an amateur honestly, but I'd love to learn more..." Clavis said thoughtfully, still gazing at Burbank, California.

"I'm sure he'd love to teach you sometime-!" Shane was interrupted when Burbank finally noticed them talking and watching him. His eyes widened in horror and he raced across the room.

"WHATEVER HE'S TELLING YOU, IT'S NOT TRUE!" he yelled breathlessly, "I'M NOT THE ZODIAC KILLER, I SWEAR!" (Sounds like something the zodiac killer would say.)

Binglebangle Cucumber finally caught up to them, bracing his hands on his knees and panting. Clavis tilted her head.

"What? No, no. Shane was actually telling me how kind and artistic you are..."

Bail Bondsman looked over at Shane in shock, but he was already gone, conveniently leaving the two alone.


Shane kept an eye on the lovebirds for the rest of the party. Bubba Gum Shrimp seemed to be doing fine, now that he'd gotten over his nerves. The two had been talking animatedly for some time now.

He briefly met Clavis' sister, Nike, who had her eyes glued to her phone for the majority of the party. She quickly explained she was the angel of winning sports teams, and she had to keep an eye on the game all night, because the tallies of prayers kept changing with every inning. "HEY REFEREE, HOW ABOUT YOU START DOING YOUR FUCKING JOB?!"

Steven learned the hard way that you should never interrupt Nike when she’s concentrating on changing the outcome of a game. When he tapped her on the shoulder to offer her a drink, he accidentally startled her. Nike jumped and yelped, wings puffing up to twice their size like a cat puffing its tail. Poor Steven seemed to shrink twice his size as he sputtered an apology before running back to Andrew, who couldn’t manage to stop laughing while comforting him. Don’t worry, Nike apologized, of course. She’s an angel.

Anyways.

Later on, Beanie Baby must’ve given Clavis some kind of compliment, because Shane noticed her blush deeply, wings fluttering. Shane smiled before re-engaging in his conversation with her other sister, Nomine: the angel of remembering names. She explained that, as a trans woman, using the correct name is so important to her, so she's very passionate about her assignment. Nomine then proceeded to call him Sean, Seth, and Sam, all within the next 10 minutes. When Shane gently reminded her of his name, she held a wing up and gently reminded him that who was she supposed to pray to for this, huh?! He liked her anyways.

Things got especially interesting when the two sat together on the aptly named love seat, sitting quite close together while also carefully not touching. But Clavis’ wings seemed to have a mind of their own. When she wasn't looking, her left wing casually stretched out, and just happened to accidentally land on Bangtan Boy's shoulder. When he jumped at the feathers tickling his neck, she looked back in horror and yanked her wings back in. Magic Beanstalk just laughed while she apologized profusely.

Ugh, and then Shane started getting distracted by some dumb angel named Castiel. He was pretty, sure, with his messy dark hair, stubble, and piercing blue eyes, but seriously, who wears a trench coat to a party? When the dude started hitting on him, Shane wasn't convinced the guy wasn't going to open his coat and flash him. But mostly, he wasn't Ryan. He had an angel of his own, thank you very much.

So Shane was patient. Until he wasn't. “Uh, so it’s cool that you’re the angel of good weather on weddings days and all, but I’m really not planning a wedding anytime soon.” So you can stop batting your eyes now. “By the way, did you know our new hire, Dean Winchester, is single?”

The dude had big demon energy if Shane had ever seen it. Castiel’s ebony wings fluttered when he spotted Dean monopolizing the pool table in his red and black checkered flannel, gripping the pool que as he watched the balls clack together. His flannel was unbuttoned, exposing the black shirt underneath. The overhead lights made his eyes appear so green, it was unreal. You could call them sour apple green. Wait, no. Fanfiction green! Certainly attractive, but again, not Ryan. At this point, all the men Shane knew were sorted into Ryan™ or Not Ryan™.

As Dean smirked, his boyish freckles became prominent, that sly grin making Cas’s wings shudder and puff up slightly. Shane was thankfully forgotten after that.


The romantic night finally ended, and did Billiardball Candlestick manage to ask for her number? Nope. Coward.

So all through the next week, Shane had to endure so much pining as Bojack Horseman lamented over what could have been.

"You don't understand, Shane, I have to see her again! I think we might be soul mates..."

“I’m saying this for the last time Banana, just ask Jen for her number!”

Banana continued leaning against Shane’s desk, like they were actually friends or something.

“If only,” he sighed, “but that would just be so obvious...”

“Fine,” Shane said dismissively, snapping his log book closed before getting up to go literally anywhere else, “Guess the love story of Breaking Dawn and the ~angel of lost car keys~ can never be.”

Since his back was turned, Shane missed the suddenly thoughtful expression on Breaking Dawn’s face...


Before we finish up this chapter, Shane has to explain something about Bi Rights. That dirty hippie is a huge environmentalist. Honestly, he’d be a better angel, but he purposely chose to become a demon so he could lecture all the other demons on conservation. He’s all about extracting the minimum amount of human fear to power daily activities, because after all, is all that pain and suffering really worth those plastic water bottles that end up dumped on the side of the road, or taking that two hour shower?

Needless to say, Bicycle rode his Bicycle to work. Every day for the last five years, snottily reminding Shane that even ride shares weren’t enough to save the environment. Whatever.

But yeah. Every day for the past five years. Except yesterday.

“Holy shit, Bugatti... did you buy a car?”

Chapter Text

Shane was surprised when Ryan jumped and shrieked when he entered his room that night. That’s weird; he hadn’t done that since they'd first met.

“Whoa, dude, calm down, it’s just me! Just a demon!” Shane joked. His stomach dropped when he flipped the light on and realized the human was in tears.

“Oh no, baby, what’s wrong?” He rushed over. (Well, shit. Guess THAT just happened.)

Fortunately, or not fortunately, Ryan was too upset to notice the pet name. He hugged his knees tighter at the head of his bed.

"Hey Ry, I’m here,” Shane said soothingly, sitting besides him. He was careful not to touch him and risk freaking him out even more. "What happened?"

"Thank God, it's just you," Ryan mumbled into his knees. "I didn't... I wasn’t sure about what was going to walk in." He dared a quick glance at the dark void Shane had entered from. The door was gaping open, seemingly sucking the light from the room.

Shane frowned, but wordlessly got up and shut the door. "Better?"

"A little."

Shane returned to sitting awkwardly besides him. He wasn't sure what to say. "Ryan..."

The human rubbed his eyes. He looked exhausted. "No, it's fine. I'm pretty sure it was a nightmare. It’s just hard to know what’s real or not, y’know?”

Shane could relate to that all too well. He nodded, letting Ryan continue:

“I was watching this dumb movie earlier and it got to me. A few months ago, I wouldn’t have worried about it. But now that I know something really could come through that door..."

But not this door. Shane had made it absolutely clear to everyone in the office: Ryan was his. His assignment, he means. But that doesn't mean it's impossible. "What did you see?" he asked carefully.

Ryan averted his gaze. "Don’t make fun of me, okay?" He scrubbed at his eyes again.

"Hey, look at me..." Shane gently pulled Ryan’s hand from his face. Ryan's watery gaze met his. "I won't," Shane said sincerely. There's nothing funny about his best friend in tears.

Ryan hadn't let go. Their joined hands fell naturally onto his lap, and Shane scooted closer, giving him what was hopefully a reassuring squeeze. Ryan held tighter before speaking:

"I know you don't believe, but it looked like a ghost. Right at the foot of my bed. It was mostly just a shape, but it wasn't moving and it was kinda translucent...” He shuddered. “By the time I knew I was awake for sure, it was gone."

Shane wasn't going to break his promise by pointing out the obvious: Ghosts. Aren't. Real. But he was still going to confront this issue like a Shaniac. "Okay, so the question here is whether something was in your room, right?"

Ryan nodded, not understanding where this was going.

Shane continued, "So there either was or wasn't. My hypothesis is the latter. And if something had been here, there's only two possibilities: another demon trying to scare you, or an actual ghost."

"Yeah."

Shane moved over to sit next to Ryan, leaning back against the headboard. He tried to let go of his hand as naturally as possible. (Don't make it weird, right?) Both faced the tightly shut door, looking especially innocent with its new coat of bright white paint. Shane considered for a moment. "I really don't think it was another demon. They all know not to fuck with you, so we can cross off that possibility."

Ryan opened his mouth to protest.

"But I'll still ask everyone when I get back!" Shane said quickly. "We have cameras, anyways. I’ll be able to see whether someone else walked through your door. And if it turns out anyone was messing with you, I will personally kick their ass. Deal?"

Ryan smiled, just a little. "Deal."

Shane rubbed his chin for a moment. "Bypassing all the logical jumps you'd need to make to assume ghosts are real-"

Ryan rolled his eyes. Shane continued:

"I still think that if they were real, they'd have to follow the laws of physics like everything else. So let's assume they do until proven otherwise."

"Which means...?"

"Which means they can't just vanish,” Shane explained patiently. "Nothing just vanishes. Matter can't be created or destroyed. You didn't see the ghost leave. That means either it's still here, or it never existed at all."

His frightened friend pulled the covers up. "It could still be here?!"

"No, no, no,” Shane backtracked, "I'm trying to explain that even if ghosts are real, this particular one isn't. So first, that door has been closed this whole time, right?" He gestured at the one leading to the hallway.

Ryan nodded.

"Okay, so Ghostie couldn't have left that way." Shane leaned over and lifted the curtain, peeking outside. His human squeaked and pulled up the covers, missing Shane's amused smile. Ryan Bergara was too fucking cute. "And we're a few stories up, so Ghostie couldn't have escaped through the window." Shane laughed. "Can you imagine? It'd be like in Looney Tunes! Ghostie would be running in mid-air for a few seconds before falling to its doom."

Shane performed a goofy impression, flailing his overly long limbs. Ryan wheezed in spite of himself. "Which means... the only places Ghostie could be are under this bed or in the closet."

Ryan scooted to the very middle of the mattress, making sure none of his limbs were anywhere near the edge. "Oh shit. I didn't even think of that!"

"No, no, it's okay," Shane reassured him. "There’s nothing there. But I’ll check to make absolutely sure."

"Be careful," his friend warned with wide eyes, "I know you think this whole thing is dumb, but..."

Shane gave him a comforting smile. "I'll be alright. I'm kind of a bad ass." He climbed off the bed and onto the floor, craning his neck to squint into the darkness.

"Shane?" came a cautious voice above him.

"It's all good," he reported, "No ghosts, and the only monsters I see are some major dust bunnies. Your mother would be very disappointed." Ryan sighed in relief. Shane stood. "Now all that's left is the closet..." Ryan tensed up again.

Shane walked over, making sure to open the door to Ryan's real closet, not his workplace. He stepped in, looking around at the various junk the human had shoved in here. Unfolded clothes, two basketballs, an impressive sneaker collection... Shane smirked when he noticed the Ouija board.

Shane turned. "Nope, no monster in here!" Then he noticed his reflection in the door's mirror. "Well, I guess now there is," he said, gesturing at himself. Ryan snorted. He stepped out. "But not anymore. See, all good! It was just a nightmare. All you have in your room is the actual son of Lucifer. The technical anti-christ. No biggie."

Ryan laughed. "Thank God for that. Now come back here, Satan Spawn,” he ordered, shuffling over and patting the spot next to him. Gladly.

"So, I have a story that may cheer you up..."


Ten minutes later, Ryan was in tears again. From laughter.

"BRENT INTRODUCED HIMSELF TO HER AS WHAT? HAHAHAH, OH MY GOD!”

Shane chuckled along. “Guess you could say he blue balled himself! Eh? Eh?” He nudged Ryan like a dork.

"I just-" Dork #2 wheezed, leaning his head on Shane's shoulder while his chest heaved with laughter, "I just don't get it. And you said it seemed like she liked him, too? But neither made a move? And then he went out and bought a fucking car so he can “lose” his keys and have an excuse to talk to her again?! Unbelievable! How can they both be so oblivious?"

"I don't, I don't even know-" Shane said breathlessly. He was actually getting dizzy from lack of oxygen at this point. "Shit, dude, we need to b-breathe man..."

Ryan nodded, too weak to even respond. And he looked so precious, curled up against Shane's body like it was the most natural thing in the world, Shane couldn't help himself. He turned his head slightly, and Ryan mirrored him, settling in more comfortably. Shane could've sworn the other stopped breathing as he reached over and wiped a tear from his cheek. Ryan looked down in soft surprise for a moment, long eyelashes brushing his cheekbones. His gaze flickered from Shane's eyes, to his lips, back to his eyes again.

"This is the only way you should cry, Ryan Bergara,” Shane said affectionately, "If I have anything to say about it."

Whoops. That just slipped out.

Ryan's expression melted. If Shane didn’t know better, he’d describe that smile as “lovestruck.”

Oh, shit. Shane hadn't realized how close they were at this point. He slowly lowered his hand. Neither boy risked breathing.

"You know, I just thought of something..." Shane said carefully. Bullet-Proof Vest and Clavis are a lot like us. I think? Maybe?

That’s probably just wishful thinking. At the last moment, Shane chickened out.

"Um, I thought that if Balloon Animal and Clavis don't work out relationship-wise, maybe they could just be... friends with Brent-A-Fits?"

Both boys lost it again.

"HAHAHAHAH, FUCK YOU MAN! THAT'S THE WORST JOKE I'VE EVER HEARD!" Ryan nudged him playfully.

Shane nudged him back. "Then why are you laughing, huh? Dumb ass!"

Ryan gasped in mock offense. "Your ass is dumber than mine!"

"Oh yeah? You wanna compare?" Shane said with a wink. This is how humans flirt, right?

Ryan gawked at him before shaking his head. "You're ridiculous. Oh my gosh, my throat is so dry, I need water." With tears blurring his vision, Ryan grasped for the glass on his nightstand. Well, more like reached into thin air, two feet to the left of the nightstand.

"W-Whoa!" The idiot was about to topple off the bed.

"Ryan!" Without thinking, Shane lunged forwards and snatched the klutz before he could go over the edge. Not that Shane was too graceful either, considering that in his panic, he went overboard and ended up pulling so hard that he fell backwards. Ryan landed squarely on his chest.

"Oof." Man, if Shane thought he'd had the breath knocked out of him before... The two looked at each other in stunned silence, faces inches apart.

"Shane," Ryan giggled breathlessly on top of him, "Why'd you do that?"

"To save you, duh." Shane groaned in pain exaggeratedly. "Wasn't worth it."

"Hey!" Ryan playfully swatted at Shane, before rolling off and laying next to him. And none too soon, considering they were moments away from Awkward Boner Town™.

The two laid on their backs comfortably, gazing at the plastic glow-in-the-dark stars dotting the ceiling. (Ryan wasn't fond of complete darkness.)

"Um, Shane?" Ryan asked hesitantly, still staring upwards.

"Yeah?"

"I'm still a little shaken up, um, so could you, uh, would you mind...?" Was he asking what Shane thought he was asking?

Shane rolled over on his side, propping his head up on his elbow. "Yes?"

Once they made eye contact, Ryan snapped his mouth shut, the request dying in his throat. "Uh, nevermind."

Shane raised an eyebrow.

"I'm just being stupid," Ryan clarified. "Ghosts aren't real."

"You don't believe that."

"No, I don't... but someone more rational would. I know I'm ridiculous. So I should probably be a grown-ass man, and not ask you to stay because I'm afraid of a ghost..." Ryan tried to laugh it off. His fearful eyes betrayed him.

Shane bit his lip for a moment. He was, admittedly, a cowardly baby when it came to romantic pursuits, but if there was anyone worth being brave for... "Well, ghosts aren't real, but the danger of falling off the bed is. You're an idiot."

Ryan blushed furiously. "I can’t believe I did that. I'm so embarrassed!" He crawled under the covers. “Don’t look at me!”

"Oh no, you don't!" Shane laughed. "I'm coming, too!"

Shane joined him under the blanket. The two giggled like idiots as they rolled into each other, almost smashing noses. Shane caught Ryan by the waist. "So I have to stay,” he said confidently. “Not because of ghosts, though. Someone has to make sure you don't fall again and break that little noggin'." He ruffled Ryan's hair.

Ryan smiled and pulled Shane's arm back around his middle. He looped his arms around Shane's shoulders. "Alright. Don't let go," he said quietly, with an attempted wink. More like an aggressive blink.

Shane chuckled nervously, hoping Ryan couldn't hear his racing heart. "I won't. Just call me your personal seat belt, baby! You suck at winking, by the way. This is how it's done." He gave Ryan one of his trademarked winks.

Ryan just laughed. "Whatever." He covered his mouth as he yawned, all nerves apparently forgotten. The human snuggled into Shane’s chest. Oh, shit. Now he could definitely feel his pounding heartbeat. He didn't comment. All Ryan said was:

“Turn off the light, please?"

Ryan's voice was muffled into his shirt, but Shane understood. He reached over and tugged on the lamp chain, bathing them both in blackness, interrupted only by the glowing green stars above.

So yeah. Shane, a bro, held onto his other bro for eight hours straight. Just to make sure he didn't fall off the bed again. And to protect him, from the things that don’t exist, and from the things that do.

Totally platonic. Don't make it weird.

Chapter Text

Brent Bennett has been having a week. That's B-R-E-N-T B-E-N-N-E-T-T. Not Bront, not Brant, and certainly not It's Britney, Bitch! Ugh!

Anyways.

He's pretty sure he met his soulmate last week. And he's pretty sure he screwed it up. Brent sighed, pulling the photograph he'd taken of Clavis at the party from his wallet.

Her aura was a pure white haze. That color really doesn't get enough recognition. Typically, white is considered the absence of color. In painting, white is a blank slate. Essentially nothing. Mixing all the colors together on the canvas creates a sluggish, amorphous gray. Physics is a totally different story. If you combine all the wavelengths of a rainbow, you get a brilliant, incandescent white. In other words, white is everything.

He'd asked her for a neutral expression, as he does with all his subjects, but her full lips had unintentionally grown into a shy smile as she gazed into the lens. A blush dusted her cheeks and nose like a gentle snowfall, but her sparkling brown eyes were as warm as rosewood crackling in the fireplace inside, safe from the storm. There was something enigmatic behind expression: a glimmer of something so radiant, he couldn’t even begin to understand the full extent of what she was truly feeling.

He'd like to think it was his own feelings of kindling romance reflected back at him. That very specific delight of finding something you've been looking for forever. Lost... found... only to be lost moments later...

Shane groaned, rubbing his temples. "Why me?" he asked nobody in particular.

Oh. Brent probably should have mentioned he was speaking out loud.

"Shane, you don't understand. She's a Pisces! I've always known I belong with another water sign!"

Shane shot the camera on the far wall an exasperated look. Brent doesn't get why his co-worker looks at that camera whenever he talks; it hasn't even been working for months.

"So what exactly is the problem here then, Red Boxxx? Just go ~woo~ her, or whatever." Shane waved his hand dismissively.

"I'm trying!" Brent exclaimed in frustration. "I've been purposely losing my keys for a week now, and praying for her to show up, but she never does."

"I don't know, pray harder?"

"Ugh. You're useless."

"Duh?" Shane said, "Come on, Burnt McChicken. You asked me for love advice, what did you expect?"

"Fair point. Your love life is a mess."

Shane went pink. "I don't, I don't have a love life. I'm single. Happily single. Ryan and I are just friends."

"Didn't mention Ryan."

Brent smirked as he walked away to go pine in peace.


Speaking of Ryan, a few days later, Brent kept getting distracted by all the teasing and the giggling as the tiny human sat on Shane's desk, feet dangling while he laughed way too hard at Shane's jokes. Unreal. Shane gets annoyed if Brent even so much as leans on his desk. Guess if you're the boss's son, it's no big deal if you break office rules by inviting a literal human to literal Hell. And this was on top of the power outages the office had been dealing with all day, sporadically shutting Brent's computer off.

Brent popped his head up over the divider. "Hi, Ryan." He ignored Shane's immediate scowl. Ryan tore his eyes from Shane to offer a friendly smile. "It's nice to see you and all, but can you two please flirt a little quieter? Thanks."

Ryan froze, rubbing his neck sheepishly. Shane noticed. He put a comforting hand on his soulmate's knee and rolled his eyes. "Don't you have cryptograms to make or something?"

His soulmate giggled.

Ugh!!! "How many times do I have to say it?! I'm not the freaking Zodiac Killer!"

Shane ignored him, pulling up Google images. "Let's let Ryan decide. Alright buddy, here's a facial composite of the Zodiac Killer. What do you think, does it look like Breakfast Sandwich?"

Ryan looked at the picture, then at Brent, then back to the picture, back to Brent...

Brent didn't need to hear the answer. "Just because I look like him doesn't mean I AM him! This happened decades ago; I'm not even 30!"

Ryan and Shane exchanged knowing grins. "I don't know..."

"Whatever. Go back to flirting and pretending you're not flirting. Bye." The Not Zodiac Killer went back to his work.


Brent hadn't gotten much more work done when he heard a polite knock, knock, knock on the outside of his cubicle. Pretty unnecessary, considering there wasn't a door. He looked up to see Ryan Bergara smiling apologetically.

"Hey dude, just wanted to say sorry for distracting you so much earlier. Shane's sorry, too." (Doubt it.)

Brent almost pointed out that this was a distraction in itself, but the human seemed sweet. And he's kinda the only redeeming thing about Shane.

"No, no, it's okay. Like I said before, it's nice to see you. How have you been? How's Earth?"

Ryan grimaced. "Earth is a disaster. A catastrophe. That doesn't even cover it. What's the word for when something is a complete failure, especially in a ludicrous or humiliating way?"

"Shane Madej?"

Ryan wheezed. It was cute how the human laughed with his entire body, throwing his head back while he clutched his belly as his shoulders shook. Remarkable how someone so likable ended up with someone so profoundly unlikable.

"Ryan!" Shane shouted from behind the divider, annoyed. "Aren't you going to defend me?!"

"Can't defend you if it's true!" Ryan called back, snickering. Brent joined in. "Oh! Fiasco! That's the best description for Earth right now."

Brent nodded in agreement. "Sorry about that. Hopefully our therapy down here can help reincarnate better humans. But you didn't tell me how you're doing?"

"Umm..." Ryan hovered at the entrance. What is he having trouble saying?

Shane popped out of his cubicle. "Hey Ry, I just got this email that I gotta go to this stupid meeting. Sorry. Want me to take you home first?"

"Nah, I'm good. I'd rather keep hanging out with Brent, if that's okay?" He looked over at Brent, asking permission with his eyes.

Shane looked appalled. "You really want to hang out with Boil?"

"It's alright, Shane. I can babysit your human for you." Brent smirked.

"He's not my-!" Ryan pouted. Shane put his hand on Ryan's shoulder, trying to assure him. "No, no, you are my... Um, nevermind. I gotta go. Have fun with Buttface."

As soon as the emotionally constipated idiot was out of earshot, Brent told Ryan the truth: "Don't worry. You are 1000% his human. He's told literally all of us."

Ryan's eyes lit up. "Really??"

"Yup," Brent confirmed, "hAnDs oFf rYaN bErGaRa!" he commanded in a terrible Shane impression. Ryan wheezed.

"Better not touch me, then. So, um, Shane told me you're a therapist?"

Brent raised his eyebrows. "He said that?"

"Not exactly," Ryan admitted, "He specifically said you're not a real therapist, because you don't believe in science, but y’know..."

Brent snorted. "That sounds more like Shane. But why are you asking? Is there something you'd like to talk about?"

"Um, yeah, if you don't mind? Shane's my best friend, but he's not the easiest to talk to about these kind of things..."

If Ryan knew he's the only one able to get Shane to talk at all...

"Sure." If you have a personality like Brent's, you're used to these types of requests. Brent turned his chair to fully face Ryan's. "What's on your mind?"

"Well, I'm happy for the most part. I'm less homesick now, and I'm starting to get used to LA..."

"But?" Brent pressed.

"But... I don't know; I feel kind of stuck? Oh, I should probably explain my job first."

"No need, I know what you do," Brent said, "Shane makes me watch your videos every time a new one comes out. You make those colonoscopy prep supplies look..." Brent struggled for a compliment, "top of the line!"

Ryan laughed self-deprecatingly. "Thanks. I do what I can, with the extremely limited creative freedom I have. Anyways, I got this promotion last month..."

"Congratulations."

"Thank you, but it's not really a promotion. Instead of Assistant to the Producer, I'm now the Assistant Producer, which has basically the same duties. I barely even got a pay raise." Ryan sighed. "My boss knows I'm not too happy in this job. They don't want to lose me, so they keep stringing me along, promising that I'll advance eventually if I just keep working my ass off."

Brent sat back in his chair. "Sounds like you've hit a dead end."

"Pretty much," Ryan admitted. "So I've been looking for a new job. I've been applying to every producer position I can, but nobody calls me back."

"I wouldn't blame yourself. You're just getting started. I've heard LA is all about connections..."

"Yeah, and that's the thing. I don't have any. And you need connections to get connections, so it's kind of a catch 22."

Brent nodded sympathetically. "It's tough out there. So what now?"

"Um, aren't you supposed to tell me that? As my therapist?"

"Nope. The answers all lie with you, buddy."

Ryan looked at him blankly.

"Okay, how about this," Brent suggested, "Let's say I have a magic wand, and I can make all your problems go away overnight. Poof!" He waved an imaginary wand. Ryan giggled. "What does tomorrow look like?"

Ryan was thoughtful for a moment. "If I could do anything? Well, Shane and I are always reading up on true crime and watching documentaries about crazy supernatural shit. We talk about how fun it'd be to produce our own show about unresolved mysteries. We're not, like, detectives or anything, so we joke about calling the show "Unsolved" because we can't actually solve shit." Ryan laughed.

Brent considered it for a moment. The chemistry between Ryan and Shane is obviously through the roof, and he could see their banter entertaining an audience. What do you think, would they make good show hosts?

"I think you'd both be great. That's an awesome idea." Ryan beamed. "What's stopping you from getting started right now? Don't you two hang out almost every night anyways?"

"Hmmm, well I don't have professional equipment or anything. But even if we don't get any views, it'd still be a ton of fun."

"That's the spirit!"

"Thanks Brent; you're great. A lot greater than Shane says you are. I don't know why he keeps saying you're the worst thing since the invention of Crocs."

Brent tried to laugh it off, subtly kicking his extra pair of neon green Crocs out of view. "Happy to help."

"Is there anything I can help you with?"

That's a first. Brent can see why Shane likes this human so much. Hopefully, Ryan's empathy will start to rub off on that dolt.

"Uh, well, knowing Shane, he's probably already told you about my failure of a love life."

"Yeah, sorry about that," Ryan said sympathetically. "So you haven't tried to talk to her?"

"Oh, I have. Over and over. I keep losing my car keys and praying for Clavis to help, but she never shows up." Maybe he should take the hint already...

Ryan frowned, tapping his chin. "What do you mean by lose, exactly?"

"I'll just like, leave it in weird places for a few hours. Like under my sink or behind the couch or something."

The light bulb went off in Ryan's eyes. "Well, that's the problem dude!"

"Huh?"

"If you're the one hiding it, then you know where it is. Your keys aren't really lost," Ryan explained patiently.

Brent smacked his forehead. "Ugh. You're so right. There goes the $10,000 I spent on that Hyundai."

"I'm sure you'll figure something else out," Ryan assured him.

"Jeez, I feel as dumb as Shane."

"Nah, you're each dumb in your own unique way," Ryan teased. "And um, speaking of Shane, I have a little confession..."

Brent raised his eyebrows.

Ryan looked around cautiously before making his admission. "I'm kind of in love with Shane. Well, scratch that. I'm fully in love with Shane. But I don't think it'd ever work out..."

Brent stared at the human for a long moment, who squirmed uncomfortably in his swivel chair. The thing about therapists is that they're always expected to be kind, understanding, and nonjudgmental. But good therapists know when to be blunt:

"You're a fucking idiot."

Ryan was taken aback. "What?!"

"I said you're a fucking idiot," Brent repeated, not unkindly. Just calling 'em as he sees 'em.

"Alright, listen, I know you don't like Shane because maybe he's called you Bristle and Byzantine Empire and Charlie Brown and A Bug's Life™ and Bing: The Alternative to Google and-"

"God damn it!" Bing swore. (Don't you dare join in on this, Erin.) "Is that jackass ever going to run out of names?! But no, it's not about that."

"Then what's it about?" Ryan protested. "Yeah he's a demon and I'm a human, but-"

"Nope. Cutting you off right there." Ryan clamped his mouth shut. "That's not the issue, either. And if someone does have a problem with inter-species relationships, they're just a bigot. No. Here's my point: I have the feeling you've talked to a lot of people about your feelings for Shane. And I mean a lot. Am I wrong?"

"No..." Ryan admitted, looking away.

"And now you're talking to me. Do you really think one more opinion is going to solve this for you?"

"But you know him!" Ryan argued, "And you know demon stuff, too."

"Time to hit you with a truth bomb." Brent pulled his red play-dough out of his middle drawer. "Want something to hold onto?"

"No?" Ryan crossed his arms. His sassy expression was eerily similar to Shane's.

"Fine." Why does no one ever want the play-dough? "Listen Ryan, out of all the people you've talked to about your feelings, you've forgotten the most important one..."

"Jen? She is actually friends with him..."

"NO, YOU FUCKING MORON!"

Everyone in the vicinity jumped at the thunder in Brent's voice. But he didn't care. This was unbelievable. It's been, what, 47 chapters of pining and stupidity? Why is anyone bothering to keep reading? Oh right, probably because they ship idiot #1 and idiot #2 as hard as Brent does.

"... Andrew?" The human asked in a small voice. He looked a little scared now.

Brent's rage deflated. He shook his head. "We both know who you need to talk to. You can play dumb as well as Shane can, but neither of you are actually that stupid. So once you get over your denial, we can have another talk about this. Mm'kay?"

Ryan shifted on his feet, looking like a scolded puppy. Aww... Brent's being too harsh, isn't he?

"Hey, I'm sorry for yelling. It's not your fault. I might have a tiny issue with anger management." Brent laughed awkwardly. "But see! I admitted it. That's the first step to getting better."

"Alright, apology accepted. And I hear you..."

"I hope you do. I really am sorry for yelling though... How about I sneak you into our costume department?"

Ryan's eyes lit up.


Shane stepped out of the meeting, shitty styrofoam cup of coffee in hand. As if that was enough to compensate for an hour of drudgery. Whatever. At least he gets to see his human again.

Shane wandered around, looking for Ryan. Wasn't in Shane's cubicle. Or Banana Boat's. Or anywhere else. Oh, no. This was giving him flashbacks to the Munchie debacle.

"Hey, Sara, have you seen Ryan?"

"Ryan?" Sara asked in confusion, tucking some unruly curls behind her ear.

Oh, right. Shane hadn't introduced her. "Let's see, he's about this high." Shane held up his hand unreasonably low. "He has these warm brown eyes, kinda like hot chocolate."

Sara raised her eyebrows.

"And he has brown hair. It's curly today, kind of like chocolate shavings. And his dad is a dentist, so he has a great smile. It'll make you melt, and it sticks with you for a while like... chocolate," Shane finished lamely. "Wow, I must really want-"

"Ryan?"

"No, chocolate," Shane said distractedly, still scanning the room to no avail. He missed Sara's facepalm.

Sara didn't know how to respond to that one, so she took a long sip of her coffee. The steam fogged up her purple glasses, so she took them off and rubbed them on her shirt. When she put them back on...

"Oh, wait, you said Ryan's short with brown curly hair? He's right over there."

Shane's gaze followed her pointing finger to see his helpless human in the clutches of Darth Vader. Right outside the costume department. The fluorescent lights flickered ominously overhead. And even worse, Ryan and Bernie Sanders Should Have Won The 2016 Election were laughing together. Unacceptable.

"Ryan?" Ryan didn't hear. Still wheezing, he threw his head back, placing his hand on Battleship's shoulder.

Grrr... Shane crushed the styrofoam cup in his hand. Scorching coffee gushed between the cracks in his fist, sloshing out onto the floor.

"Uh... you okay?"

"Yeah. All good." Shane gave her a tight smile, immediately nursing his hand after she walked away. His skin was lowkey sizzling. But it's fine. Really.


Ryan was still laughing with Brent about the obscene amount of terrifying Easter bunny costumes they found when Shane came marching over.

He greeted them coolly. "Ryan. Butcher Knife."

"Hey, Shane!" Ryan greeted cheerfully. "How as your meeting?"

"Boring," Shane grunted, looking suspiciously between them. "But whatever. It's over. Wanna hang out tonight?" It was very clear which man he was asking.

Honestly, jealous Shane was a little entertaining. And more than a little flattering. Maybe it could reveal something... Ryan decided to press his luck.

"Oh, sorry, I was actually going to ask Brent to hang out tonight..." Ryan said casually. He really did want to befriend the demon.

Brent's face brightened up. "Oh wow, really? I'd love to! I've been meaning to try out my new tarot cards..."

"You're seriously choosing the Black Plague over me?" Shane hissed. “How could you-?" He stopped mid-sentence, expression becoming alarmingly serene. "Could you both excuse me for a moment?" he asked politely.

"Uh... sure?" they responded in unison.

With a disconcerting smile, Shane calmly walked out the nearest exist. Brent and Ryan jumped when they heard a strangled scream echoing outside the building. Shane calmly strode back in.

"Uh, you okay, man?" Ryan asked slowly. This wasn't the reaction he'd been expecting.

"Yeah, of course!" Shane said brightly, “Just letting off some steam."

"Yikes," Brent mouthed.

"Yikes," Ryan mouthed back.


Ryan was just about to go home for the night. Brent was coming over later. Shane was just finishing up some stuff at his desk first.

"Hey Ryan!" Andrew called, "There's something you gotta see before you leave. Shane took it down, but I still think it deserves a place on our bulletin board..."

"Aw come on, Andrew," Shane whined, "Is this really necessary?"

"A celebration of true friendship always is," Andrew answered solemnly.

"Okay?" Ryan said.

Andrew wordlessly handed him a photograph. Ryan did a double take. Was that really...? It was. He clasped his hand over his mouth. Brent and Shane were smiling gleefully, entangled in the most heartfelt embrace Ryan had ever seen, surrounded by demons and angels alike. Ryan might even be jealous, if it wasn't so cute.

"Ryan, I can explain!" Shane said frantically, "I was coerced! You know I'd never want to hug Bank of America!"

Ryan sucked in a breath.

"HAHAHAHAHHAHAHA-" But Ryan's hysterical laughter was cut short.

BOOM!

The floor went dark. The building went dark. For all Ryan knew, Hell itself had gone dark.

"Shane!" he screamed in a panic. The room flashed like lightning before bathing them back in pitch darkness. He spun this way and that, trying fruitlessly to regain his bearings.

"Ryan!" Shane yelled back worriedly. Oh, no. If Shane Madej is scared, we're all screwed. Ryan's heart beat even faster.

”Why isn’t it going back on?” Qezza shrieked behind him. “It’s never been off this long before!”

"WHY'D YOU HAVE TO THROW AWAY MY CANDLES, KATIE??" Steven roared, somewhere to Ryan’s left.

"... The fuck?" Brent commented eloquently to his right.

"MARCO!" Andrew sang, giggling.

"POLO!" Steven sang back, rage instantly forgotten.

"CAN EVERYONE SHUT THE HELL UP??" Katie thundered.

Ryan was in full on terrified Boogara mode, blindly stumbling towards safety in his best Bambi impression. Making your way around in the dark is even more difficult in Hell, where the floors feel like they’re shifting beneath you. The darkness seemed to pulse before his eyes. "Shane, where are you?!"

"Ryan!" Shane called, somehow managing to shout over the other panicked demons, "I won't move, okay? Come find me! Just follow the sound of my voice! I'm right here, still in my chair-"

"OOF!" The boys groaned in unison. Ryan had shamelessly flung himself onto his guardian demon's lap with so much force that Shane's chair rolled back and hit the wall, dumping them unceremoniously onto the floor. To Shane's credit, he didn't let go of Ryan as they tumbled to the ground. The surrounding chaos raged on.

Ryan could do nothing but squeak in fear considering everything was still dark.

"Ry, Ry, hey, look at me..." Uh yeah, that was a little difficult right now, considering Ryan couldn’t make out anything in the darkness. "Are you okay?" Shane asked urgently. "Are you hurt?"

Ryan took a second to do a mental body scan. He felt fine, physically, besides the adrenaline jolting his body like a live wire. He hadn't been injured when he was stumbling around blindly, and Shane had purposely taken the brunt of their fall, with Ryan once again landing on top of him. He felt more than fine, in a way, considering he was on Shane's lap on the floor, cradled in a tight embrace. Except, of course, for the fact that breathing was difficult at the moment. He began to feel lightheaded.

"Ryan? Can you answer me? Are you okay?" Shane asked again. The concern was evident in his voice.

"Not really..." Ryan said in a daze, inadvertently answering both questions. The trembling was setting in. Above them, a static BUZZZZ rang out before cutting off abruptly. Ryan flinched into Shane’s chest, covering his ears. His protector held him impossibly closer.

”It's okay, there’s nothing to worry about. You’re just in the dark, in Hell, surrounded by demons!” Shane joked, trying desperately to make Ryan laugh. It backfired.

"I think-I think I'm going to have a p-panic attack..." Ryan stuttered out. Here. In Hell. Ryan Bergara is going to have a panic attack right here, and there’s nothing he can do about it. His chest started caving in on itself.

"Alright," Shane said carefully. "Okay."

Ryan could feel his airflow restricting. "I don't think I can s-stop it, S-Shane," he admitted, tears threatening to spill. I'm going to have a panic attack, I'm going to have a panic attack-

"That's fine," Shane said casually.

In his surprise, Ryan snapped out of it. "It is?"

"Yup. If you want to have a panic attack, go ahead."

No one had ever said that to Ryan before. They usually frantically tried to calm Ryan down, succeeding only in freaking him out even more.

"No one wants to have a panic attack, jackass!" Ryan hissed. How is Shane so irritatingly calm? Must be a demon thing.

"Of course not," Shane affirmed, taking no offense to Ryan's harsh words. "I'm just saying, it's fine if you do. I'll be right here the whole time. And then it'll be over, and I can take you home." His voice was so matter-of-fact, so logical.

Ryan took a moment to process. Somehow, Shane knew Ryan's biggest trigger for a panic attack was the fear of having a panic attack, and not anything else.

Ryan let out a breath he didn't know he'd been holding. "So... it's okay?" he asked dumbly.

"Absolutely." Shane gently turned Ryan's chin towards his. Ryan could almost make out his gaze in the darkness, mere centimetres away. "You're safe with me, Ry. Promise."

The words sank into Ryan's skin, relaxing every muscle, joint, and tendon in his body. He slumped against Shane, who supported him easily, stroking his hair. He was okay. They were okay. And if Ryan had a panic attack right now, that was fine. Miraculously, he didn't feel one coming on anymore.

"Thanks, big guy..." Ryan breathed. And with that, all the lights flicked back on innocently, as if they were never off. Ryan had to shield his eyes for a moment as his pupils adjusted. Various demons stood around in bewilderment.

"Guess it's over?" Qezza remarked, still clutching onto her chair for support.

Brent walked by, nonplussed. He shook his head when he noticed Ryan and Shane still locked in a firm embrace. "Fucking morons..." he muttered.

"No one needs your negativity, Book of Mormon!" Shane shouted after him. Ryan managed to wheeze weakly. Shane turned his attention back to him. "You good, buddy?"

"Yeah," Ryan said, surprising himself, "I think I am."

Shane smiled. "Good." He gingerly untangled himself and stood up, offering his hand. Ryan took it.

“Um, sorry for calling you a jackass.” Ryan frequently called Shane that, but this time had felt different.

“It’s alright,” Shane said, squeezing his hand. “I know you didn’t mean it.”

“Okay, good, because I really am sorry, and-”

Shane cut off his nervous rambling with a hush. You’d think Ryan would be offended, but he found it soothing.

"Hey, don’t worry about it. You don’t need to be worried about anything right now; everything’s all good.” Shane’s voice was so steady; Ryan would’ve believed anything he said. He nodded. Shane tugged on his hand. “C’mon, little guy. Let’s get you home."

"Holy shit, guys!" Andrew called out, scrolling through his computer. "The meters, they're all at 100%! And the canisters; they're all filled to the brim!" The demons swarmed around him in amazement.

Ryan's jaw dropped. "But how...?"

"Nope," Shane started ushering Ryan back to the scare floor. "Not your concern. We’ll take care of it. You've been through enough today."

Ryan was immensely curious. "But-"

"Nope. Bedtime," Mama Madej said firmly. Ryan gave up and let himself be herded out of Hell and tucked into bed. Besides, the whole power outage fiasco was a lovely excuse to ask Shane to stay again.

Turns out, Ryan didn't even have to ask.


A week later, Shane was approximately 300% done with Brown Eyed Girl's whining and complaining about ~the love that could never be.~ In a fit of frustration, he snatched Bubble Buddy’s keys and shoved them in his desk drawer.

A few hours later, Blast From The Past was wandering around the office in confusion. "Has anyone seen my car keys?" Shane ignored him.

No one noticed the faint white glow in the corner of the office, growing brighter by the second.

Chapter Text

In a burst of light, Clavis stood before them. She must've just been about to tie up her hair, because her hands fell from her head as she turned towards them, releasing a canopy of dark curls that framed a face that was, frankly, angelic. You might assume she was about to go out, in her fluttering navy blue dress patterned with sunflowers and bright red strappy heels, but angels are just... like that.

Shane's glad Hell's dress code was more of an "autumn lesbian" kind of vibe. Flannel, sweaters, scarves, jeans, being a woman attracted to other women. You get the picture. But, for the 120th time in this story, he digresses.

"Oh! Hi!" Clavis exclaimed warmly. She didn't look too caught off guard. The angel had probably been on-call. Her wings perked up like a puppy's ears when she noticed Be More Chill standing there in surprise.

"Hey, Clavis!" Shane said, "Nice to see you again." He gave Bill's Grill a swift elbow to the ribs. Say something, idiot!

"Uh, h-hi!"

She smiled. "It's nice to see you both. I hear someone's lost their car keys?"

"That would be me," Billy Joel blushed and rubbed the back of his neck. "I'm sorry, I don't mean to waste your time..."

Sure, Jan. Let's pretend he hasn't been trying to get her attention for weeks.

Her eyes scanned the room for a few seconds. Shane swore her gaze landed right on his second drawer. Well, this was certainly going to be awkward... Surprisingly, Clavis didn't comment. "Well, where did you last see them?" she asked cheerfully.

... Really? That's all she's got? Not to be rude, but isn't this, like, her job?

Beautician didn't mind, of course. "My desk. They were just resting on top. Maybe they fell or something?"

"Alright!" Clavis smiled again. Boy Scout might actually have a chance if she keeps looking at him like that... "Let's check it out. Can you show me?"

"Sure, yeah, it's right over here! Hey, you wanna see my crystal collection?"

Shane facepalmed. Way to blow it, Black Parade. Could he be any less cool?

"I'd love to! Rose quartz is my favorite." Wait, really?

Shane spent the next hour getting approximately zero work done as he shamelessly eavesdropped on the conversation on the other side of the divider. The two had a surprising amount in common: both were the youngest of three, and often felt overshadowed by their siblings' extroverted personalities. Both adored Hello Dolly. They knew all the words. Aww, even Shane had to admit that was cute.

And... Shane pressed his ear closer to the divider: both loved slasher films. Turns out, Saw 3 is Burt's Bee's favorite movie. Can't say Shane is surprised. Told you he was the Zodiac Killer.


Thirty key-less minutes later, Clavis stopped by Shane's desk. Huh, where's Backstreet's Back, Alright?

"Hey, Shane. I'm going to need those keys back now."

Shit. Caught in the act. Shane reached down and opened the drawer, spewing out excuses: "Uh, I know it looks like I stole them, but I can explain. First of all, I would NOT drive a Hyundai-"

She took the keys with a smile. "Don't worry about it; I won't pry. You actually did me a favor..."

"I did?" Shane asked dumbly.

"Yeah!" She stepped back and peeked outside Shane's cubicle before divulging: "To be honest, I have a little crush on Brent..."

"You do?" Plot twist of the century.

"I mean, how could you not?" she mused dreamily, twirling on her hair. "He's just so... you know?"

So guilty of committing a murderous rampage in the bay area in the 1960's? Shane nodded.

She bit her lip. "So, I was wondering if you could do me a favor. As a friend?"

As a friend? Is making another one that easy? Wait until he tells Ryan!

"Sure?"

"This is totally against the rules, but would you mind hiding these keys again sometime? I'd love to spend more time with him, but I'm kind of shy about these things..."

"Sure?"

She beamed. "You're the best! If there's anything I can do for you, let me know. Really, I'm so excited. Um, can I hug you?"

"Sure?"

Shane stood up stiffly and Clavis hugged him warmly, as if he wasn't 6'4 of social awkwardness. She leaned back and grinned. "Well, I have to go drop these off now and get back to my job. Humans are always losing their keys. But thanks again! I guess this means I'll see you soon?"

"Yeah, sure. Bye!"


Babe In The Woods stormed into Shane's cubicle not even five minutes later.

"Did you seriously steal my keys, Shane?!"

Shane swiveled around in his chair. "Yup."

"... Can you steal them again sometime?"

"Yup."

Fucking. Morons. Shane's not going to reward a lack of communication, so they'll have to figure it out themselves.


The next day, Big Brother walked into the office clean-shaven, in an effort to change up his look and impress Clavis.

When turning a corner, he nearly bumped into Shane, who yelped in fear. "JESUS! What happened to you?"

"I shaved..."

Shane looked him up and down. Ouija Board had tried to look professional, (for once), by sporting a blazer. "You look worse."

"Aw, Shane, are you saying you like me the way I am?"

"No!" Shane scoffed. "I'm saying put some hair on, please. This is a place of work, not a nudist beach. And go back to your old style. At least that was bearable." He walked off abruptly.

Brothers Grim was back to himself the next day. Shane gave him a curt nod.


As you can tell, Brooder was hopeless. Truly hopeless. That is, if he didn't have Shane.

“Well, Band-Aid, today is your lucky day, because you are looking at the number one heartbreaker at Demons University.”

Brontosaurus looked around in mock confusion.

"Oh, shut up! You know it's true."

“As I remember it, Shane, you cut off every relationship once things started to get even remotely emotional."

Shane scoffed. “Well, I’m not talking about emotional attachments right now, am I? I am talking about pure, primal, seduction. You obviously aren’t familiar.”

Boggart looked Shane up and down doubtfully. “And you are?”

Rude. “Hey Balcony, remember when I had so many asks to the dance that I had to write down everyone’s names and draw out of a hat? That ever happen to you? No? Okay. Let’s get started."

Shane leaned back smoothly against the wall, and shot a quick wink at an intern walking by. She blushed furiously, covering her mouth and giggling, “Hey Shane!”

Butt Of The Joke looked disgusted. “Ugh, you’re insufferable. You better hope Ryan never knows this side of you, Casanova." (Shane might've been a bit of a player back in school. Goldilocks And The Three Bears had definitely been a huge nerd.)

“You wouldn’t dare tell him, Binder Clip, or I’ll bring up what YOU were like in school.” Shane laughed. "You were such a professor's pet; it was embarrassing. Remember that time you-"

"FINE!" Bonsai Tree relented. "I won't tell Ryan. Jeez."

"Do you want my help or not? This is a one time offer, Booster Club.”

“I get the feeling I don’t have a choice in this matter," Better You In Just 60 Days Or You Get Your Money Back said gruffly.

“Not really. Alright, first things first." Shane rubbed his hands together. "8 out of 10 angels believe the first kiss will tell them everything they need to know about a relationship-"

"You just pulled that out of your ass, didn’t you?”

Shane ignored him. "-And believe me, she has DEFINITELY thought about it.”

That piqued Dave The Barbarian's interest. “You really think Clavis thinks about me?”

“Oh, of course! I mean, not that she’s gonna act on it, so it’s not really a big deal...” Shane trailed off.

“... So, I shouldn’t either?”

“NO, YOU IDIOT!" Shane shook Becky's shoulders. "OF COURSE IT'S A BIG DEAL!"

"Huge?" But Wait, There's More! asked dumbly.

"MONUMENTAL! You are not LISTENING-"

Shane took a deep, cleansing breath and remembered he's trying to help poor, clueless Bargain Bin here. He leaned down and put his hand on Bargain's shoulder. “Okay, I need you to wrap your head around this. The next time you see her, Clavis: angel of lost car keys, could have her ~last~ first kiss...”

“O-Oh...”

"Oh is right, buddy," Shane said seriously.

“So.... I should act on it?” Jesus. This was like watching a bearded toddler learn how to walk.

“Yes. For God’s Sake, yes.” Shane squared up like he was preparing for a fight. “Alright, come on. Show me what you got, Bug Spray!”

Knott's Berry Farm gawked. “Excuse me?”

“Y’know," Shane said easily, "just show me how you would kiss me.” Bioluminescent looked around pointedly at all the demons bustling through the factory atrium they were standing in. Shane was unfazed.

“I will do no such thing!”

“No, don’t actually kiss me! I’d have to light myself on fire. I mean, just show me how you’d go for it. Because I’m not me.” Shane bat his amber-hazel eyes. “I’m Clavis!” he chimed, in an unnecessarily high voice.

“Shane, you can’t be serious right now.”

...

“Please tell me you’re kidding."

“Love is a serious matter, my friend,” Shane said solemnly, then immediately reverted back to his silly voice. “Now, show me the magic!”

Fender Bender looked up to the ceiling and clawed at his face. “I can’t fucking believe I’m doing this.”

“It’s fine, come on, we can do it out of sight.” Shane grabbed Biology Class’s hand, swinging it exaggeratedly as they walked to the men's locker room. “I had SUCH a great time tonight, Bagpipes! I inexplicably really like you!” It was hard to hold in the laughter.

Bono ripped his hand away with a sour expression. “If you’re gonna act like Clavis, you have to call me by my name.”

"Whatever you want, B'rent."

"How the fuck did you pronounce the apostrophe?" Shane just laughed.

“Fine. Then I demand compensation. You’re finishing my paperwork for me after this.” Shane quickly got back into character. "I had such a wonderful time tonight, Brent!” Ugh, that word left a horrid taste in his mouth.

The two entered the locker room, standing by their make-shift front door to the hallway outside. “Alright, this is for when you walk her home. Y'know, after you get the balls to do it." Shane fiddled with his ID card lanyard. "See what I’m doing? This is a signal. Fumbling with my keys. An angel that doesn’t want to kiss takes these out, puts them in the door and goes right in the house, but an angel who does...” Shane held up the keys. Jingle jingle!

“Wait wait wait!" Body Bag protested, "I’m not doing your paperwork! You’re half a year behind!"

“Half a year of paperwork vs. a lifetime of I'm sure your friend/cousin/niece/karate partner is very nice, but I'm good, thanks.” Shane rubbed his chin sarcastically. “Hmm, I don’t know which I'd choose...”

“You son of a bitch!" Bildungsroman grouched. "Fine! How about I do half, and you do the other? You know, because it’s your job?"

“Fine, whatever. Now focus, Blue Footed Boobie! Door! Keys! Jingling! What are you gonna do?”

“... Leave.” Ba Sing Se tried to walk away, but Shane roughly pushed him against the door, lips inches apart. His smirk was predatory. After all, he had Ryan Bergara right where he wanted him. Uh, Beethoven. Shane means Ludwig Van Beethoven.

"No, I don't think so...” Shane said lowly, looking down at Brendon Urie’s mouth and then back at his eyes. He placed his hand on the wall over Brendon's head, caging him in. "You're not going anywhere, are you?"

Orlando Bloom didn't manage to respond, as he was hyper-aware aware of the infinitesimal amount of space between their lips. Please let this end soon.

“See what I’m doing right now?”

Bob Saget swallowed nervously. "Robbing me?"

“Not today," Shane's voice sank even lower. "This is the magic, baby." The taller demon leaned back, ever so slightly. Bed Post let out the breath he'd been holding.

You know what? Fuck Shane for thinking he's so smooth. Boob Job will show him. He looked over Shane's shoulder in surprise.

"Oh, hey Ryan! What are you doing here?"

Shane jumped away from the wall like he'd been shocked, spinning around so fast that he lost his footing, stumbling like an absolute fool. "Ryan! This isn't what it looks like! This isn't-!" There was no Ryan. "FUCK YOU, BAKLAVA!"

”Not so smooth now, huh?

”This proves nothing, BetterHelp! You just caught me off guard!”

Once Shane regained his composure and Baklava stopped chortling, they got right back into it. Shane was back in Sexy Shane™ mode. You know, the mode that malfunctions whenever Ryan is nearby.

"Ready to finish your lesson?"

Barack Obama adjusted his collar.

Shane leaned in again, stopping just shy of Benjamin Franklin's lips. Ben could feel his breath on his face. “See, this is what most demons do. They rush in to take the kiss, but you’re not most demons, are you?" The gravel in his voice grazed Benjamin Franklin's skin.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer gulped and shook his head.

“The secret to a kiss is to go 90% of the way...” Shane smirked, lips nearly brushing Aaron Burr’s, but not quite. “And just hold.”

And he held...

And held...

And held...

“H-Hold for h-how long?” Bamboozle managed to stutter out.

Shane smiled slyly, flicking his eyes back to Brad Pitt’s lips again. “As long as it takes, baby. As long as it takes for Clavis to come the other 10%...”

“Okay-90/10-got-it-bye-"

Shane snatched Baby Yoda by the back of the shirt as he tried to escape. Finally, finally, Shane backed up a reasonable distance.

“Alright, now come on. Show me the magic!”

Boston Bruins was clearly flustered. “I don’t think that’s a good idea...”

“Listen! I am not Shane! I am CLAVIS! The angel of your DREAMS! Now come over here and BE A MAN!”

“I had a great time, Brent...” Listen Erin, this story is rated "general audiences." Is it really appropriate for Shane to say such a foul word?

“I had a great time too, Clavis... with a beard...” Clavis with a beard rolled his eyes.

Bill Hader started to lean in, but hesitated. Shane gave him an encouraging nod.

Bruce Lee exhaled, biting his lip before slowly leaning in... Shane waited expectantly. Blake Sheldon followed orders, pausing at 90% of the way in. Shane stayed still, looking bored. He glanced down at his fingernails.

“W-what are you doing?"

“Nothing. Because I don’t know, I’m just not feeling it. I’m not feeling like you want me enough.”

Bradley Cooper tried again, but this time with more lust in his eyes.

“Better... Come on, I’m Clavis! The angel of your DREAMS, the woman whose brown eyes are limpid pools of desire-“

Billy Rae Cyrus went in for the kiss.

Shane Madej and Brent Bennett's lips touched for less than a millisecond.

“AHGGGGGGGGHHH!! WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?????”

“I DON'T KNOW, YOU SAID YOU WANTED ME TO-"

“NO!!! I SAID YOU COME 90 AND I COME 10! YOU DON'T GO THE WHOLE 100! YOU OVEREAGER SON OF A-BLEGH!!!” Shane sprinted to the sink, spitting profusely.

"WOULD YOU RELAX? IT WAS JUST A PECK!"

“WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU, BUTTON DOWN? MY MOUTH WAS OPEN!" Shane pointed to his mouth, newly red from vigorous scrubbing. “UGH, I'M GONNA BE SICK!”

“OH SHUT UP, YOU DRAMATIC NOODLE!”

“HOW ABOUT YOU SHUT UP AND BRING ME MOUTHWASH BEFORE I REPORT YOU TO DEMON RESOURCES?”

“AND I'LL REPORT YOU FOR CONVINCING ME THIS WAS A GOOD IDEA IN THE FIRST PLACE!”

"UGH! WHATEVER!” Shane spat in the sink one last time before standing up and wiping his mouth aggressively with a paper towel. “If you learned anything from this, just don’t kiss her like THAT! Jeez. Well, I’m going home to write my will, in case I die from this. Bye.”

“... Was it good, though?”

“UGH!!!”


Shane's A/N:

UNFORGIVABLE, ERIN!!!

Chapter Text

The creak of a door opening.

A cool breeze winding its way through a dark room.

The unmistakable sound of footsteps edging closer and closer.

Finally! Holly sprang up in bed.

"WHOA!" A thin man with glasses and a beard jumped back, clutching his chest. "Jesus. I thought you were sleeping."

Holly looked him up and down. "Where's your wand?"

"My what?"

"Aren't you supposed to be smaller?"

"Aw, jeez." The man looked down and grabbed his slightly protruding belly, "But I've been working out!"

"No!" Holly exclaimed. She reached over for her favorite dolly. Mommy had given it to her if Holly promised to never cut her own hair again. Holly held out the doll in demonstration. "Her size!"

"Who's that supposed to be?"

"Mulan! Have you been living with a rock?" Holly didn't know exactly what that phrase meant, but Dad always says it when he's talking about work.

"What?! No- Ugh. You know what? Forget it."

What a weirdo. This wasn't who Holly was expecting. She carefully tucked Mulan back under the covers. When she turned around, the man's eyes were fiery red, piercing through the darkness like lasers.

Holly screamed. She ripped back the sheets and dashed for the door. In her haste, she nearly tripped over her nightgown. She yanked on the handle, but it wouldn’t budge. "MOM! DAD! HELP!"

"They can't hear you," the man growled. Holly spun around, flattening her back against the door. "Mommy and Daddy aren't coming."

It's just a bad dream. It has to be! Holly squeezed her eyes shut. When she opened them, her night light flicked on by itself. The soft glow projected just enough light to cast a shadow behind the man. It towered above him menacingly.

The man stepped closer. His shadow began to grow long, sharp horns. A forked tail unfurled itself from the shadow's body. The man in front of her seemed to become smaller as his shadow slowly engorged her entire bedroom.

"Stop!" Holly shrieked, "Leave me alone!"

"I'm afraid I can't do that," the man answered simply. That voice was hollow. Empty.

"N̸̢̛͍̩̻̟̼̽͒̄͛̇͑̂̾͗͒̂̉o̸̰̞̺̺͈͉͖̜̺͕̎̓̑́̈́͌̍͘ͅ" the shadow confirmed, "H̶̨̢̛̹͔͓̝̭̹͓͓̓̇́̑̀̆̊͛͑̕e̶̦̤̹̟͚̙̓͐̈̉̍̈́̉̓͠ ̸͈͎̰̦̯̣͙̜̻̲̈́͛̍͐͒͗͛̄ͅȓ̷̢̧̢̭̻͔͓̥̱̥̈́̍̒ͅe̵̟̋͗̐̈́̏̋ǎ̴̧̨̧̛̹͇̈͋͊͑͜ͅl̴͉̲̣̲̏̊̽̚͜ḽ̷̺̹̰̼͍͈̿͒ͅy̵̡̥̟͍͂̄̽͑͜͜ ̵̜̝͎͕͉̹̮̜̓̈͛́c̸̡͍̳̜͎̥͂͒̒̈́a̸̢̢͔͖̝͕̘̖̩̓̅͑̊͆̐͒͘͝n̶̠̦͊͑͛̽̔͊̒̍̃̍'̶̺̤̮́̋̕t̵͇̲̝̖̮̮̙̤̱̉͠ͅ.̸̢͍̩͎̋̈́̆̀ͅ" With pointed claws, the shadow slashed at their joined feet, severing the tie between monster and human. The man crumpled to the floor. The shadow had stolen his red eyes.

In desperation, Holly turned around and pounded on the door. Why weren't her parents waking up?

"̸̖̣͆̑͐̌̔Ţ̸̜̤̫̻̫͙͆͘͘o̵̪̝̟͗o̷͔̟͒͛̾̍ ̴͛̿̇͌̍̆̚l̷̛͚̹̰̓͗̇͘͠ͅḁ̵͍̭̝̅̏̏͠t̷̨͍͎̞̳͛̈́͗̈͝e̷̘͕̍ ̵̼̣͛͆̿̈́̈́̂t̵͕̄͗͒̿̏̾́͜o̵̱͋̄ ̴̢̢̲̖̜̤̲̓̅̊r̷̖̙̲̹̾̅̎͜ư̷͚̙͍̗̔̌̓̆͘n̸̘̫̟̝̪̙̿̏̎̆,̸̨̠̦͑̈́͌ ̵̙̙͍̥̦̼̱̂ḹ̷̱͙̖͔̪͔̏̎̆͘i̷̳̼̣̪̾̌̃̒̒t̶̥͙̼̱̽ẗ̵̛̬̻͍͕͕̩̥́͋̔l̷̖̠̏̂̐̅̕͠ę̵̰̖̼͍̤̽͜ ̸̡̨̫͈̯̮̂͑̽͑̒̓̕g̸̛̟̞̹̜̯̙̖̓̂̓͌͠i̶͙̺̝͐͗̑͒͋̕͝r̵̼̜̳̠͂l̷̉̀̓̊̃̑͘ͅ.̴̝͙̃̂"̴͓̟͙̱̪̏̊̃͝

Holly covered her eyes. All there was left for her to do was scream.

The closet door whipped open.

A woman's voice rang out: "BRENT BENNETT, YOU CUT IT OUT THIS INSTANT!"

Someone stormed into the room, flipping on the lights. Holly peeked through her fingers. The shadow vanished, leaving behind a meek-looking man sitting sheepishly on the floor.

"Um, Clavis, having you in here is kinda against our policies..."

"You think I care?! What on earth were you thinking, scaring this little girl?"

The man on the floor cringed at the scolding. "I just wanted to show you what I do for a living!"

She was not having it. "You should be ashamed of yourself!"

Holly finally got brave enough to lower her hands. A pretty lady in a cinderella blue dress stood over the man with her hands on her hips, glaring daggers at him. Her skin was as dark as Holly's. A few tight braids around her scalp gave way to shiny curls bouncing around her face. And... she had wings!

"Oh! There she is! You can go now," Holly said to the man. The two looked over at her in surprise.

"Uh, what?" he asked, finally standing up.

"The tooth fairy's here!" Holly said cheerfully. Nothing bad could happen to her now. "You may leave," she dismissed.

The two exchanged a look. The tooth fairy's eyes widened. "Um..."

"You are the tooth fairy, aren't you?" Holly asked, with big eyes.

The fairy's hesitant expression burst into a radiant smile. "Of course I am! That's why we're here! I'm Clavis the tooth fairy! And this is..." She gestured at the man standing awkwardly behind her. "My assistant! Brent."

Holly frowned at him. He didn't look like a fairy at all. What kind of fairy wears an argyle sweater? "He's not very good at his job..."

"No," the tooth fairy shot her assistant a glare, "He's not. More like an assistant in training, really..."

"Um, okay." Holly reached underneath her pillow and pulled out her tiny front tooth. She'd lost it just this morning after some persistent wiggling. "Who should I give this to?"

They both looked at the tooth in disgust.

"Him! You should give it to him." With a resigned sigh and one last glare from Clavis, Brent walked up to Holly with his palm outstretched. Holly dropped it in his hand.

He looked down at the tiny, white incisor. "Ew..."

"Now, apologize!" the tooth fairy commanded.

"I'm sorry..." Brent said, lacking any enthusiasm.

"Sorry for...?" Clavis prompted.

Brent sighed. "Sorry for turning into a giant shadow demon monster to try and scare you."

"It's cool," Holly responded. She's over it, mostly. "Just give me my present."

"Your what?"

"My present!" Holly repeated. "For losing my tooth."

"Um, I don't have a present, so here, you can take this back..." Brent reached over to give the tooth back. The fairy slapped his hand away.

"Don't you dare!"

"But I don't have anything!"

"Oh yes you do." Clavis glanced him over for a moment, frowning and tapping her foot. Her eyes fell onto the sleek, gold watch with a black face glinting on her assistant's wrist. "Give her your watch."

"You can't be serious."

The pretty lady crossed her arms. "Give her your watch or so help me, Brent, I will never speak to you again."

With a pained expression, Brent unclasped the watch and handed it over. Holly looked at it with wonder. The metal felt cold and heavy in her hands. And there were sparkles on the front!

"Oooh, shiny!" Holly exclaimed in delight. The tooth fairy gave her a warm smile.

"That's what you get for being such a good little girl."

"Just please, take care of it," Brent said, eyeing the watch longingly. "Keep it somewhere safe, and never go swimming with it on, and polish it once a month with warm water and a bit of dish detergent. You can use a clean toothbrush to get rid of any dirt that gets stuck between the links-"

"Come on, Brent." The fairy grabbed his arm and dragged him from the room. "Goodnight, sweetie!" she called back over her shoulder.

"Yeah, goodnight thief," Brent grumbled. The fairy yanked him out the rest of the way and shut the door. Fairies are weird, Holly thought, Oh well.

And with that, the little girl fell back asleep, cuddling with her new watch.


Shane had chosen a good hiding place that morning. When Burning Man Festival wasn't looking, Shane snatched his car keys and headed out to the parking lot. He'd spotted Big Toe's electric blue Hyundai easily. He simply unlocked it and dropped the keys inside.

He smirked to himself while he sat at his desk, adjusting the brightness on his spider cam. Just a little more... there we go! Shane could see the terrarium better now. Spider #468 kept organizing more and more elaborate escape plans, and worse, she was starting to recruit her siblings. Needless to say, Shane's needed to keep an extra close eye on them lately.

Anyways, this was going to be great. After days of Clavis discovering Shane's increasingly complex hiding spots in less than an hour, this one was going to be different. After all, who would look for lost keys in their car? And even if she did realize they were there, no one, and Shane means no one, can retrieve an object that's fallen into that tight gap between the seat and the console.

So Shane was delighted to hear that B.Y.O.B. was taking Clavis on a full-factory tour. Only so they could check out every possible location for his missing keys, of course. Idiots.


So that morning, Clavis and She's a Brick! House! had headed off on their tour. But now it was near closing time. Where were they?

Off Brand Cereal came back from the scare floor in a hurry, looking nervous. But where’s Clavis? That’s mildly concerning...

Blob Fish looked left and right to make sure there were no demons. Once he (incorrectly) deemed no one was watching, he tucked something in a tissue and tossed it into the trash. The fuck?

Shane walked up to him. "What did you just throw away?" Bach Violin Concerto in E Major jumped back as his eyes widened.

"N-Nothing!"

Shane raised an eyebrow.

"Just-um-some gum! Bubble gum. Uh, do you want some?" Bubble Gum started frantically searching his pockets. "Oh, looks like that was the last piece, haha, sorry..."

Normally, Shane's not a fan of reaching into trash cans, but this was too weird. He had to investigate.

"NO, WAIT! DON'T-" Best Practice lunged for the tissue. Of course, he was far too short to reach above Shane's head.

"Oooh, is this a love letter to your giiiiiirlfriend?" Shane teased, unwrapping the tissue.

And then he screamed.

The demon yelped as a human tooth fell out and clattered onto the floor.

Oh, no.

Oh, no.

SEAT BELT'S ACTUALLY A MURDERER?? No, no, no...

Shane didn't really think Bore was the Zodiac! Shane was just kidding this whole time! He thought he was kidding!

The killer stood before him in stunned silence, letting Shane process. What was Shane going to do? They don't even have a police station down here!

And then Shane realized. His stomach dropped. He looked into the bearded face of evil.

"DID YOU KILL CLAVIS?!" Oh no, no, no, no. This was all Shane's fault. Technically, he introduced them!

"No, no! I can explain!"

"WHERE IS SHE?" This can't be happening. This can't be happening. She was Shane's friend! And friends don't let friends get murdered by the Zodiac Killer!

Just then, Clavis walked out of the women's bathroom. The air rushed back into Shane's lungs.

"Oh my god, thank god you're okay!" He ran up and hugged her without hesitation. Her wings fluttered up in surprise. "I'm so sorry I left you alone with him!"

"Um, what?" Clavis asked, her dark brown eyes filled with concern. Why is everyone always looking at Shane like that?

Shane pulled back. "Are you hurt? Do you still have all your teeth?"

"Yes? I'm fine."

"Oh thank god." Shane pulled Clavis back into a fierce hug. She awkwardly patted his back. Shane smiled warmly down at her before tightening his arms protectively and glaring at Back To The Future over her shoulder. "Don't you dare touch her," Shane warned.

"No, no, Shane, it's fine! This is all just a misunderstanding," Sea Biscuit explained, "This is just a kid's tooth!"

Shane dropped his arms in shock. "AND THAT'S BETTER?! YOU'RE TELLING ME YOU MURDERED AN INNOCENT CHILD-"

"No, no, Shane!" Clavis got between them before Shane beat the Zodiac Killer's ass. "You're very sweet to be concerned, but everyone's fine. It's all good. Let me explain..."


An hour or two later, Holly awoke to a faint knocking at her door. She sat up, rubbing her eyes. What could these fairies want now?

"You can come in..."

A lanky man awkwardly stepped inside, gently closing the door behind him. "Hey there," he said, rubbing the back of his neck, "I heard my friend gave you a scare earlier..."

"Yeah, he did," Holly pouted. "It was mean."

"I know. He's a jerk." The man slowly walked over and knelt beside Holly's bed, careful not to scare her. He had fluffy brown hair, a gigantic head, and a kind face. "My name's Shane. Sorry for waking you up; I just wanted to check if you were okay."

Holly thought about it. "I was scared for a bit... but then a fairy came in and saved me! Are you a fairy, too?"

"What?" The man's hazel eyes widened in surprise. "Oh, um, yes! I am! Uh, what's your favorite color?"

Holly didn't have to think about that one. "Green!"

Shane closed his eyes, and two emerald green wings sprouted from his back. The translucent wings glittered in the glow of her nightlight.

"Pretty!" Holly reached out, touching one of his wings in wonder. It felt as delicate and silky as a flower petal.

"Haha, thanks." Shane smiled. "So, I just wanted to apologize for Bront's behavior..."

"I thought he was Brent?"

"Nope. It's Bront," Shane corrected reflexively, "Anyways, he shouldn't have bothered you. He's a big meanie, and he smells weird, and literally no one likes him."

Holly giggled. She didn't know fairies were funny.

"You did great, though. Cla- I mean the tooth fairy, was telling me how brave you were. You're the bravest little girl we've ever met!"

Holly's eyes lit up. "Really?"

"You bet! She told me you scared him!"

"Oh, yeah, I did!" Holly giggled, "When I sat up!"

"That's amazing." Shane grinned. "I'm your biggest fan, Holly. I wish I could scare like you."

Holly frowned. "Why would you want to scare anyone?"

"Oh, well, because..." Shane thought about it for a long minute. "You know what? You're right. I don't want to scare people anymore. But that's a secret..." He held his finger to his lips, "Shhhh."

This fairy was weird. Holly tilted her head. "But that means you're a nice fairy. That's a good thing. Why don't you want people to know you're nice?"

Once again, she'd stumped Shane. "Huh. I don't really know. You're right, I guess." He smiled sheepishly. "I'm silly, aren't I?"

Holly crossed her arms. "That's one way to put it."

Shane barked out a laugh. "You got me. Yeah, you're right, I should be nice... Anyways, no one's going to bother you ever again." Shane looked back at her closet door, hanging open to expose the dark void beyond. "I have, uh, special fairy magic that will protect you."

"What on earth are you talking about?" Holly said, in her best Mommy impression.

Shane laughed. "Let's just say that after I walk back in that closet, nothing's ever going to walk out again. No monsters, ghosts, nothing."

"Not even fairies?" Holly asked softly.

"Well, the magic keeps out everything..." Holly's face fell. "But we'll still be here!" Shane assured her. "You won't be able to see us, but your fairy friends will always be looking out for you. Except for Bront. Because no one likes him."

Holly laughed. "Okay." She yawned. "I'm tired. Can you go now?"

"You got it, ma'am." Shane got up from the ground, wincing as his knees cracked. "Night!"

Besides the faint sound of a chainsaw outside the door a few minutes later, Holly never experienced any issues with her closet again. She did have a little trouble explaining to her parents where the gold watch came from, though.

Chapter Text

The next evening, Ryan was doing laundry in the hallway when he heard three sharp raps on his closet door. He dropped his basket, rapidly trying to smooth his hair before he let his crush in.

He answered the door with a bright smile. “Hey there, big guy! You’re early-”

“Shhh!”

“Wha-?”

“We have to keep our voices down,” Shane whispered. He was half in Ryan’s room, half back at the factory. Caught between two worlds.

One look at his best friend’s expression confirmed this wasn’t a bit. Shane was fidgeting furiously, and he kept glancing over his shoulder. What was he on the lookout for?

“Shane?”

“I’m sorry, Ryan. I’m so sorry. I fucked up. I shouldn’t even be here right now, but I didn’t want you to think I’d abandoned you, because I swear, I'd never-”

Ryan frowned. “But what-”

Shane carefully moved closer, keeping one foot in Hell.

“I broke workplace rules.”

Ryan opened his mouth to ask since when did Shane Madej care about rules?

“No, no,” Shane whispered, apparently reading Ryan’s mind, “This was an important one. There isn’t much time-”

“What did you do?!”

Shane looked over his shoulder one more time before answering: “There was this little girl. Holly. She was so sweet, and brave... She's only seven! I didn’t want anyone to scare her anymore. I couldn’t stand the thought of it. She doesn't deserve it. She's just a kid!"

After Ryan's tour, he'd decided Hell wasn't as bad as it's made out to be. But here Shane stood, in front of him, desperately trying to justify why he wouldn't torture a child. Why would you have to explain that? This was sick. Hell was beyond fucked up; just not in the way you'd expect. Ryan nodded.

Shane exhaled. “I shredded Holly's door. They can't get to her now. But that means the factory’s lost another fuel source, and it's my fault. I destroyed it. I've done this before, but because there’s a power shortage, my bosses aren’t letting it slide this time. I’m so sorry...”

Shane ran his hand through his hair, the guilt twisting his features.

“Hey, Shane...” Ryan somewhat awkwardly put his hand on Shane’s shoulder. “You did nothing wrong. Please don’t apologize for being a good person.” Don't apologize for being you.

They no longer bothered correcting that Shane wasn’t a person.

“That’s not it...” The two froze when faint footsteps echoed in the distance. Neither moved until the sound faded. “No, Ryan, I’m being punished. I can’t see you anymore.”

“What?!” Ryan exclaimed, louder than he should have. “What do you mean?” he whispered. He forced his volume down, but he couldn't hide the edge of terror in his voice.

“Just a couple days. A week at most." Shane adverted his eyes. "They’re bogging me down with all these jobs no one else wants to do. I'm just gonna do everything they want. Completely cooperate. Once I’m done, I think they’ll be over it.”

“I don’t understand...”

“I know.” Shane's eyes glistened, but he managed to hold it in. “But I have to play it safe this time.” He swallowed thickly. “Because they threatened to reassign you.”

A swift whip of fear cracked in Ryan’s gut, making his stomach lurch uncomfortably. “Reassign me?” It just occurred to him that, after a lifetime of night terrors, he’s had hardly any nightmares for the past four months; that is, since he met Shane. He should've appreciated him more.

“No, no! I won’t let them.” Ryan didn’t respond. He was too stunned. Shane stepped further into the room, gently grabbing Ryan’s face. “Hey, look at me... I’m not gonna let anyone hurt you. I’m not.”

Ryan reached up to hold Shane’s hand against his cheek, tears threatening to spill. “What’s going to happen to you?”

Shane’s tight smile didn’t reach his eyes. “I’ll be fine. Totally fine. Just gotta follow the rules for a bit. Behave, for once in my life. Maybe do my job. Man, I am such a bad demon,” he said with a watery laugh. “Probably the worst one. Aside from Bee Movie, of course. He sucks.” Shane’s laugh broke off into a sob. “He’s just so dumb, you know?”

"Hey, hey, hey," Ryan said, gently caressing Shane's cheek. "Don't say that. To me, you're perfect."

Shane exhaled and closed his eyes. “Ryan...”

“It’s okay, you don’t need to say anything.”

“It’s just, they’re not really giving me a choice here,” Shane said regretfully.

“But I’m going to miss you...” As if that would make any difference.

“I know,” Shane’s voice cracked. He pulled Ryan into a fierce hug. “Me too.”

When Shane tried to pull back, Ryan refused, holding on tighter. He may be bigger, but Ryan was stronger. But was he strong enough? Shane gave in, rubbing the shorter man’s back in slow circles while he finished what he needed to say:

“It’s going to be okay, Ry. We’ll be fine. I’m not going to let anyone hurt you. Not now; not ever. But...” Shane pulled back, resting his hands on Ryan’s shoulders and leaning down so they were at eye level. “If you have a bad dream again, I won’t be there.”

And that’s when Shane Madej started crying. Hard.

"I'm sorry, I'm so sorry..." Ryan's heart broke as his best friend got choked up. He could barely remember the Shane who didn't know what an emotion was. This Shane took a deep breath. “But p-please l-listen to me, Ryan. That’s all it is: a bad dream. No matter how scared you are, it’s just a dream. Keep telling yourself it's only a dream.”

Shane pressed their foreheads together, wrapping his arms around Ryan's waist. “I’m going to need you to be brave for me, Ry,” he murmured, “Can you do that?”

Ryan's just had all the air knocked out of him. He's never felt less brave. “Yeah, yeah I can.”

In reality, he doubts it. Anyone who knows him besides Shane knows Ryan Bergara is a fucking coward. But he’d say anything to get that pained expression off his friend's face.

“Thanks, buddy...” They hugged again, tightly. Ryan closed his eyes as fingers stroked through his hair. Shane held Ryan against his chest for as long as he could. Ryan clutched onto his shirt, as if that could make him stay.

There was no denying the footsteps now. Shane pulled back abruptly.

“I have to go,” he said numbly. Ryan’s heart shattered as the love of his life walked away, without even looking back.

But then, like he couldn’t help himself, Shane turned back and hugged Ryan one last time, placing a quick kiss on his forehead.

He was gone before Ryan could react. Shane shut the door tightly behind him.

“Shane?” Ryan yanked the door back open, only to see his messy closet. He slammed it closed again. “SHANE?” Ryan shouted, desperate this time. He opened the door, stared at his stupid, useless closet, and shut it again.

Open. Close.

Open. Close.

Open. Close.

Ryan Bergara burst into tears.


Ryan didn’t see Shane for two weeks.

He was left wondering if it had all been a dream.

Chapter Text

Things were Not Good™️. More than Shane had let on. He doesn't want to talk about it.

At lunchtime, he reverted back to his table in the corner. Sure, it was a little dark, since he's far from the windows, but that just made it easier to watch the glow of his spider cam. Besides, it's safe. Familiar. With two walls to his back, no one could sneak up on him. And Shane could easily spot potential threats, like friendly coworkers.

"Want some company?" Jen hovered above him with her lunch tray.

"Not really."

"Great." She plopped down next to him.

Grumpy Shane™ sullenly avoided eye contact by picking at his stupid salad. He hadn't been paying attention in the cafeteria line, so he just asked for whatever the demon in front of him ordered. Guess Janet is a fan of dressing-free, gluten-free, carb-free, fun-free leaves.

Jen cleared her throat. "Um, I wanted to say I'm sorry about Ryan..."

"I don't want to talk about it," Shane muttered. He stabbed a piece of lettuce with his fork.

"Oh, okay, that's cool..." Jen scratched at her black pixie-cut. "Uh, did you watch the game last night?"

"No. Sports are dumb." If Ryan were here, he'd chide Shane for being so cold. But he isn't here, is he?

"Oh. Okay. I like watching basketball sometimes. But to each their own." Normally, she'd sass him right back. Shane would prefer that over the look of pity.

He grunted something unintelligible.

Jen picked at her orange peel for a bit before trying again:

"Hey, you wanna come to my next game night? You were so much fun last time. Everyone loved Candy Land."

"I'm busy."

"But I didn't even say when it was..."

Shane didn't bother answering.

They ate in silence after that. Normally, this was enough to get someone to leave him alone, but it wasn't working this time. Ugh. Shane wished there was an "unfriend" button in real life. Can't he just return his newfound friends to the store or something?

Finally, Jen broke the silence. "Want to share my cosmic brownie?"

"... yes."

She smiled and handed him half. Shane muttered a thank you and went back to his spider cam, chewing contentedly on his brownie.


Of course, it had to get even worse. A few minutes later, Steven, Andrew, Sara, and Qezza joined him at their table. Once again, Shane didn't want to talk about it. He didn't really want to talk at all, but here they were.

The rest were happy to carry on a conversation about who the hell cares, so Shane got to watch his camera in peace for a bit. It wasn't too interesting, considering his children were fast asleep, dangling peacefully from their webs. Except for Zippy, who was leaping from web to web and bouncing spasmodically off the glass walls, as per usual.

The demons eventually baited him into conversation.

Andrew balled up his napkin and tossed it at Shane's head. Shane glowered. But as we all know, he's not intimidating. "Hey Shane, remember what you were like when you first started working here?"

"I'd rather not."

"Wait, what was he like?" Sara asked. "I wasn’t working here yet."

"He wore a suit everyday," Steven giggled.

Sara started chuckling. "But we're not even business casual?"

Shane grumbled something under his breath about trying to be professional.

"Suuure," Qezza teased, "It wasn't like you were trying to get us to call you 'Sir' or something."

Shane groaned into his hands. He'd rather not relive this. Shockingly, Shane Madej didn't always have such a sparkling personality.

"He did what?!"

"Yup." Jen snickered. "He said we had to refer to him with respect because he's the boss's son. So we gave him a 'Welcome, Sir' cake on his first official day."

Everybody laughed. Grumpy Shane stayed grumpy.

"Yeah, fine, I was a dick," Shane admitted. "Can you all give it a rest now?"

Steven turned to Sara. "Can you guess who the only one who wouldn't call him Sir was?"

Sara shook her head.

"Brent."

Ah, yes. Bio-statistician was Shane's rival all through university. Such a friggin' try-hard. Baby Beluga always had to one-up him in class. Shane got even by absolutely destroying him in the scare simulator exams. Without much effort, because he wasn’t a giant nerd who spent hours in the library.

When they were both hired at Inferno, Shane was willing to put the past behind them. Doesn't everyone deserve a fresh start? Apparently not, because from day one, Betty Crocker made a point to call him "Shane" whenever he could. So the only appropriate response was to never, ever call Morning Breath by his name again.

They continued chuckling and sharing embarrassing Shane stories. Grrr.

“Is this supposed to be making me feel better?” Shane grouched.

"Hey, it's chill," Jen said, "We were all weird when we started out. Remember what I used to be like? I was such a slob; I caused a rat infestation!"

"That was you?!" Steven exclaimed. "Those things were huge!"

Shane chuckled in spite of himself. His first impression of Jen was the day she threw some wads of garbage at the trash can. When she missed, she just shrugged. Eventually, the piles started building up. Buzzard cleaned it up, like the pushover he is.

"I still didn't commit as many work violations as your hair did!" Jen shot back. Everyone laughed.

A smile tugged at Shane’s lips. Their handbook used to ban "unnatural" hair colors. Steven was the reason the old policy listed every banned color, starting off with purple. When Steven adamantly argued his lavender hair was different from purple, lavender was added to the list. Then neon green. Then navy blue. Then bubblegum pink. Corporate gave up on the day Steven came in with hair that glowed in the dark.

"Remember when Qezza was so shy at first that she didn't talk for two weeks?" Andrew chuckled. "What happened?"

"Hey!" Qezza laughed. "At least I wasn't the one who came to every meeting 15 minutes late with Starbucks!"

"I still do that sometimes," Andrew admitted. "The coffee in Hell sucks! Luckily, a couple of my assignments live right near Starbucks."

"Leaving any human's home is totally against the rules," Shane pointed out.

"Since when do you care?"


And that's the question, isn't it? Because Shane hasn't cared about rules until very, very recently. Because something was weighing on him.

The only reason he's still assigned to Ryan at all was Katie (bless her heart). But it wasn’t easy. It's not like corporate cared about his feelings. When those suited pricks threatened to tell Lucifer, he almost laughed in their faces. Great, maybe then he'd finally get back to me. But Shane had the good sense to look ashamed.

Katie argued in terms of efficiency. As the manager of daily operations, she knew what she was talking about. Would it really make sense to separate the top fuel source from one of the top scarers? Shane must really know how to scare this one. No other combination of scarer and scaree has generated a 200% on the meter.

Except Shane really, really didn't want that to be pointed out. He didn't sleep that night.

Katie had to promise upper management that, in the alternative, she’d punish Shane severely. Not that he was complaining. He snuck a batch of freshly baked pretzels into her mailbox as a thank you. He distantly wondered if he'd ever be invited to pretzel day again. Not that it mattered anymore.

So Shane was happy to finish everyone’s paperwork, take and retake inventory, scan thousands of documents, and do whatever else was asked of him. Anything but reassignment.

When he was ordered to take over janitorial services, Shane simply said, “Yes ma’am.” He could see the sympathy in Katie’s eyes, but her hands were tied.

The bummer was that it was a Friday, and he was nowhere near being done. He thought about handing Ryan a Valentine’s Day card inscribed with “I’d clean the bathrooms on every floor of a 13 story building for you. Thoroughly.” Because Shane wasn’t cutting corners this time. It wasn’t worth it.


Shane took a short break in the kitchen to mentally prepare himself for a long night. He looked down at his hands. His pale skin was chapped in a way he'd never experienced. The back of his hand felt like sandpaper. Shane winced as he opened and closed his fingers. Each little flex of muscles cracked the skin open, sending small beads of blood to the surface.

Shane was technically a prince, but he'd never really thought of himself as one. Until he realized this was probably a regular occurrence for those who have to work a lot harder than him. Wow. Shane's really had his head up his ass for the last 31 years, hasn't he? Shane's musings were interrupted by a voice:

“You’re really drinking coffee this late?”

Beer Belly was pulling on his jean jacket as he passed by on his way out.

Normally, Shane would ask Beer how he knew the time, considering a seven-year-old girl probably traded his 24 karat gold watch for a candy bar. But he was exhausted.

“Yeah, I gotta finish up this floor.”

Brilliant Eye Brightener By Thrive Cosmetics frowned.

“You’re really serious about this, aren’t you?”

“I have to be.”

Best In Class set his stuff down and stepped into the kitchen. "Listen, Shane, I need to apologize."

"For what?"

"This is all my fault," Bunion admitted. "If I hadn't thought it was okay to scare an innocent child, none of this would've happened."

"You were just doing your job," Shane pointed out. "I wasn't." That's certainly what had been drilled into him during his scolding.

Burberry shook his head. "No Shane, you were right. What we do here, it's not okay. You get so used to it, doing it day in and day out... you stop questioning things. I used to think it's a necessary evil, but Clavis reamed my ass the other day." He laughed to himself. "Man, she's incredible."

Shane smiled a little, for the first time all day. "She is. I hope you didn't mess things up with her."

"I don't think I did, surprisingly. She said anyone can change, if they really want to. And damn, I want to." Build Me Up Buttercup looked him in the eye. "Shane, she's right."

"Wow, BMW, looks like we agree on something for once." Shane almost spilled his secret right there: he hasn't scared anyone in months. But he didn't want to draw any more attention to Ryan.

Bog gave him a small smile. "That all being said, I'm sorry, Shane. I really am."

"Don't worry about it." Shane waved his hand dismissively as he made his way out of the kitchen to grab some cleaning supplies. "Apology accepted."

"Wait."

Shane turned. "Yes?"

Bark's jean jacket was off. "Where should we start?"

"We?"

Bend... and Snap! brushed past him to grab the Windex. "Never mind. I'll just start with the counters and you can do the dishes." He started spraying, ignoring Shane's astonished expression.

He really wanted to help? Back Spasm was willingly staying god knows how late on a Friday night, doing tedious work for Shane? Someone who's (admittedly) been a jerk to him for years. Shane was touched.

"No," Shane said gruffly. Brawny looked up. "Don't try to pin me with the dishes. Everyone knows that's the worst job. I'll spray the counters."

#Blessed just rolled his eyes and handed Shane the spray.


They cleaned for hours. Shane grew tired of scrubbing the dirt between the kitchen tiles with a friggin' toothbrush. He sat back on his knees and looked over at his stupid co-worker with his stupid beard and stupid glasses and stupid crocs. Charlie Brown was currently searching the cabinets for a pair of rubber gloves because he can't stand to wash the dishes without them. And it occurred to Shane that he trusted him. Completely. Buenos Aires was one of two who'd ever managed to earn that from Shane Madej.

"I gotta tell you something..." Shane muttered.

Buzzfeed Unsolved turned away from the sink. "Yeah?"

"We should sit down..."


The two sat in an empty meeting room, where Shane usually snoozed off while the executives droned on and on. Simpler times.

"I have to tell you something, but you can't tell anybody."

Beginner's Luck frowned. "Okay?"

"I'm serious. Someone could get really hurt here. You have to promise."

Breach of Contract opened his mouth to speak. Shane interrupted him:

"Before you say anything, you have to know you'd be breaking office rules. A lot of them. I won't hold it against you if you don't want to get involved. But if I tell you, you have to promise."

Bellboy thought about it for a moment. Finally, he asked, "Do you need help, Shane? Is that what this is about?"

Ah, yes. Asking for help. Shane's least favorite thing to do. From his least favorite demon. But it's time to grow up.

"Yeah," Shane admitted, "I do. I really do."

"Alright," Birth Control said decidedly, "I'm in. I won't tell anyone."

Shane couldn't believe it. "Just like that?"

"Yup. It's about time I stop blindly following the rules. Here..." Blunder extended out his pinky like he was the friggin' queen of England. The queen noticed Shane's perplexed expression. "It's a pinky promise, idiot. C'mon. Hold out your finger."

The two pinkies interlocked, and Briefcase promised not to share Shane's secret. Once more, Shane was surprised by how much he believed him.

"So, what's this about?"

Shane rested his head on his elbow on the table. "Ryan."

"You must miss him," Beaver empathized. "Hell, I even miss having the little guy around here. He was sweet."

Shane nodded glumly. "Here it is: I've been hanging with him every night."

"Uh, not to burst your bubble, but that's not a secret. Everyone knows that."

Shane shook his head. "You don't understand. I've been hanging out with only Ryan. I haven't scared any humans since I met him."

"But... your scare scores. You're still at the top every week. You even beat me sometimes. Wait..." Bicep's nostrils flared. Here comes that signature temper: "Have you been cheating?!"

Shane laughed bitterly. "I wish. Oh my god, I wish. Then they could just fire me."

"I don't understand..."

Shane's stomach clenched. "It's Ryan. He sets off the meter. Sometimes it's not too much, but sometimes one night with him can send me to the top of the scoreboard."

Shane could almost see the gears turning in his co-worker's mind. "You're not watching scary movies or anything, are you?"

"Sometimes we do," Shane said thoughtfully, "But I don't think that's it. The scary movie nights actually tend to generate less power than usual."

Backbone sat back in his chair. "Does Ryan have an anxiety disorder? Or intense phobias? Anything like that?"

Shane shook his head. "No. Ryan's the bravest person I know. He gets scared or nervous sometimes, sure, but he always pushes through."

"What is it then?"

"The power surges spike with his mood. His fear, laughter, anxiety, happiness... It doesn't seem to matter with him. Remember the power outage a few weeks ago? That was his laughter, and then his fear. It ended when he calmed down. That's why I had to get him the fuck out of there. Before anyone made the connection."

Shane was so fucking stupid to bring Ryan into his workplace. Twice. It's just impossible to say no to that hopeful expression.

Back Door slumped back in his chair. "Shit. If the higher ups find out..."

"I know." Shane shuddered. "With the fuel shortage getting so bad, I hate to think what they're capable of. Ryan could power this whole place on his own."

"Fuck..." Baritone said eloquently.

He was right. They're fucked.

Here comes the waterworks. Shane hugged himself tightly, willing his body to hold it in.

"Shane?"

Shane shook his head vigorously. "Ryan's my best friend. He's my best friend. And it's all my fault..."

"How on earth is it your fault?"

"I've been so selfish. I knew from the beginning; I was just kidding myself. I kept telling myself it was some glitch with the meter or the scoreboard or something. Because I didn't want to give Ryan up. But now I've drawn so much attention to him... I've put his safety at risk." Shane swallowed. "I'm a terrible friend. Ryan deserves so much better. But I c-can't l-lose him..."

Big Toe shook his head. Shane cut him off; he knew what was coming.

"Don't defend me." This demon doesn't deserve it.

With a sympathetic expression, Ben and Jerry’s got up from his chair.

“No. Don’t hug me,” Shane said coldly.

“Why not?”

Shane sniffled. “Because I might hug you back.”

"You fucking idiot."

Broker walked over. Shane stayed stubbornly in in chair, sitting so rigidly he might’ve well have been an iron pole.

Ignoring his coworker’s incessant objections, Bypass leaned down and wrapped his arms around the tallest demon in the department. For once, Shane was the shorter one. He didn't have to hunch or squat or kneel to meet someone where they're at. For once, Shane experienced being held, instead of holding. He was finally small enough to lean his head on someone's shoulder. The new feeling made a warm spark swell in his chest.

Shane wiped his runny nose on his sleeve. “I still hate you,” he muttered.

Billionaire laughed and patted him on the back. “I hate you too, buddy.”

Chapter Text

In general, Shane's a patient demon. Until he's not.

Blushing Bride and Clavis had danced around each other these past few weeks. They flirted, but never actually did something about it. Coincidentally, Shane's patience ran out on the same day he was banned from seeing Ryan. He would do anything to see his best friend again, and here they were, wasting time.

So, like the superb wing-demon he is, Shane stole Birch Tree's car keys and flushed them down the toilet. You're welcome, Birkenstock.

And now, we wait. But not too long.

"Down the toilet, Shane? Seriously?!" Bi Right's face had gone that special shade of magenta that appeared only in Shane Madej's presence. The two cornered Shane in the hallway about the keys a minute ago (as if they didn't already know who had them).

Clavis tried her hardest to look indignant on behalf of Big, Blonde, and Beautiful, but amusement sparkled in her eyes.

"Yup," Shane said with a wink. "Totally an accident. I borrowed your keys to, uh, drive your car, I guess. I forgot they were in my back pocket and then... splash!" Shane waved his hands. Clavis disguised her laugh with a cough. "Sorry, dude. Um, it'll probably take a while to get those back. Yikes."

They looked at him blankly. Jeez. Must Shane do everything around here?

"What I'm saying is you two might want to find some way to occupy the time together."

"That's a good idea! Would you like to join us, Shane?" Clavis asked politely.

No, no, no. Shane is NOT the Nick Carraway of this relationship.

"Oh, thanks. I can't, unfortunately. Uhhhh I've got to... feed my dog!"

"You don't have a dog," Barbara pointed out. So unhelpful.

"Well, not yet!" Shane forced a light chuckle. "I have to go adopt a dog first, and then I'll have to feed it. Y'know, when I have one."

As the sole owner of a braincell, Clavis picked up on Shane's efforts. She nodded enthusiastically.

"That sounds really important, Shane. Good on you for adopting instead of buying. We'll leave you to it, then!" The angel turned to the other demon. "So, Brent, looks like we have some time on our hands... Um, would you maybe want to get lunch with me?"

Bean Pole's mouth fell open while his cheeks faded from magenta to more of a rose. Say something, idiot!

"YES!" Shane answered for him. "For home's sake, he says yes."

She looked doubtfully over at Bloodhound to confirm. He nodded enthusiastically.

And with that, Beauty and the Bront were on their merry way. Finally.


After an hour or so, Shane happened to see Boo-Ya and Clavis walking back from lunch through the second-floor window. Thunder rumbled from the darkening clouds overhead, threatening to split the sky into pieces. They didn’t notice.

The two were smiling and laughing giddily. They couldn’t seem to look away from each other. Blinker was carrying their take-away bags, like the gentleman he is.

The angel and demon stopped just outside the entrance to Inferno Power Systems. “We Scare Because We Care” was proudly displayed overhead. (Can’t miss the irony there.) They were hesitating, each searching for a reason to stay a little longer.

Then, like magic, the missing car keys appeared in Clavis' hands, sparkling clean and in perfect condition. Anyone else would’ve wondered why she didn’t just conjure them in the first place.

The angel looked down at shiny keys, rolling them over in her fingers. A dire wolf keychain dangled off the main ring. The silver wolf snarled fiercely, with a fearlessness Shane hoped Blank Space could find within himself. “So, um, I guess I should give these back to you now...”

It was almost like she was... fumbling! With keys! Now was the moment! Shane pressed his face to the window, his nose sticking to the glass cartoonishly. Do it, Eggs Benedict! NOW!

“Oh, um, y-yeah, t-thanks, Clavis,” Border smiled shyly. She mirrored his smile, taking a small step forward. Ring Bearer opened his mouth, closed it, then opened it again. Come on!

The silence had dragged on too long. “Well... here you go,” Clavis said somewhat disappointedly. She dropped the keys in his hands. Blue Print stuffed them in his pocket. Shane groaned. This must be how sports fans feel when their team just can't get it together.

“Thanks,” Burgeoning Romance said, just as disappointed. Shane pounded his fist on the window. Boom Baby looked up to see Shane frantically gesturing to do the thing! His friend just shrugged, in a gesture that implied the moment had already passed.

Just as Clavis was about to turn away, lightning flashed overhead. It was as bright and sudden as if someone had just snapped a photograph. That was the only warning they got before rain came. It came hammering down harder than the Lord’s wrath (yikes).

"O-Oh!" Clavis exclaimed.

The angel's wings acted on impulse, the same way your hand jerks away from the stove before you've even registered the heat. One wing swept the two together in a fluffy white cocoon while the other sheltered them like a feathery umbrella. The heavy droplets bounced right off their makeshift shield, spilling onto the pavement. Thunder boomed overhead.

The abrupt movement made them grab onto each other to maintain their balance. His hands were on her waist, and hers were on his shoulders. They laughed awkwardly, noses bumping.

Even from two stories up, Shane could see Clavis was blushing. "Oh my gosh, I'm so sorry! They act on their own sometimes; I can't really help it. I didn't mean to invade your personal space like this. I'm so embarrassed-"

"You're beautiful."

Before Clavis could react, Bromeo was leaning in with his eyes closed. (!!!) Slowly... slowly... and there we go; he's 90% of the way! That's my boy! And he held... and held...

The angel's features twisted into an adorably confused expression for a moment, in a what are you waiting for type of way. Then she smiled and grabbed his face, pulling his lips to hers.

YES!!! Shane was shamelessly fist pumping from the window. Look at Bromeo go! And they just keep kissing! And kissing... and kissing... ah, okay it's getting gross now. Now he's just intruding. Shane turned away, still sporting an exuberant smile.

The joy stayed with Shane for the rest of the day. But as happy as he was for Bermuda Shorts and Clavis, he was a little sad, too. Because Shane's first thought was, "I can't wait to tell Ryan."


The next day began with a message blaring over the loudspeaker: Shane Madej, please report to Ms. LeBlanc's office immediately.

Shane got up without protest.

Bella Swan's head popped up over the divider between their cubicles. "What did you do this time?"

"Nothing!" Shane said defensively. "I don't break rules anymore. She's probably giving me another assignment." Shane didn't have any reason to fear Katie. She was a profoundly decent and reasonable boss who's given Shane more breaks than he's deserved.

He knocked on her door.

"Come on in."

Shane entered and took a seat on the pleather chair across from her desk.

"One minute..." Katie was typing some sort of code into her laptop. "Alright." She looked up and smiled. "How are you doing, Shane?"

"Fine," Shane said tersely, not understanding where this was going. "You?"

Katie closed her laptop. "Well, honestly, upper management has been stressing me out about this energy shortage. Saying everyone's gonna have to start pulling more hours soon and such." She reconsidered, tapping her pen on the desk. "But never mind. I don't want you guys to worry about that just yet."

"Oh, okay." Shane could only imagine what it'd be like to have to work with those pricks. "I'm sorry they've been on your ass so much. For what it's worth, I think you've been doing a great job running this place." He meant it.

Katie laughed in pleasant surprise. "Oh, wow, Shane! Sorry, I didn't mean to laugh; I've just never heard you talk like that. Thanks!"

"Yeah, of course." Shane still wasn't sure why he was here.

"I'll get to the point now. Your punishment is over. I mean, I never wanted to discipline you in the first place, but y'know..."

"I know," Shane assured her. "I really appreciate you standing up for me, Katie. You always do, even though I'm honestly not that great of an employee..."

Katie looked at him curiously. "Never heard you say that either. Huh. Sure you're the same Shane?"

"Pretty sure, yeah." Shane smiled weakly.

"Alright, then. Well anyways, you did a great job. Thanks for being a good sport through all this bullshit. I just changed the coding; Ryan's door should be back at slot eleven when you get back to the scare floor." Katie chuckled thoughtfully. "I like that human; he's a ray of sunshine. Tell him I said hi for me."

Shane's whole body perked up. "Will do, thanks Katie!" He sprung out of his chair.

"One more thing..."

Shane turned at the doorway. "Yeah?"

"Just be careful. I don't want to make everyone worry, so let's just say things aren't going well. And my authority only goes so far. Going forward, I can't guarantee I'll be able to protect you..." she warned.

Shane resisted the urge to ask what was going on. "I understand. I'm such a dick for putting you in this position in the first place. I don't want to make things any harder for you. I'll be a good Shane."

She smiled. "Alright, go get your man."

"Ugh, he's not my... Whatever. Thanks again, Katie."


Shane had just one more thing to do before he could go ~get his man.~ He stopped at his desk, pulling a large rectangle of cloth from his jacket pocket. He held it out and frowned. The stitching wasn't great...

"What's that?"

Brimstone was looking curiously at Shane's creation. Shane blushed.

"Um, it's supposed to be a present for Ryan, but I don't know if I'm going to give it to him..."

"Why not?" Browser approached to take a closer look, because he's never understood the concept of leaving Shane alone.

"It's supposed to be a flag, because I kinda destroyed his last one." Shane spread the cloth out on the desk. It spilled over onto the floor. The fabric was clumsily sewn together, but you could still make out the basic design: A large, blue circle was at the center. To the left, two green triangles framed a yellow sun and three golden stars. To the right, two red triangles framed an eagle with three oak leaves. Shane had been working on it for weeks, since the last time he saw Ryan.

Beatrice laughed. "That thing is huge! How big is it?"

"Five feet by seven," Shane said, crossing his arms. "Why?"

"Dude, human flags aren't that big," Book Case snickered. "How tall do you think Ryan is?"

"He's 5'9," Shane grumbled. "I don't know; I figured the bigger the better?"

"If you say so. That doesn't look like any flag I've ever seen. What country is it?"

"Well, I wanted to make something just for Ryan. A Bergara bandera." Terrible joke, but Ryan would appreciate it. "It's a combination of three flags, for all of Ryan's ethnic backgrounds: Mexico, Japan, and the Philippines." Ryan's heritage was important to him. Shane had researched the meaning of the colors and symbols decorating the different flags. He'd tried to incorporate it all.

"Awwwww, who knew Shane Madej was such a romantic," Black Magic Woman cooed. Rich, coming from someone who ~kissed in the rain~ yesterday.

Shane's ears burned. "I'm not!" he grumbled. "A friend can make something nice for his friend without it being romantic. Who has the toxic masculinity now, Back In The U.S.S.R.?"

Back Stabber didn't lose his smirk. "Fine, fine. But still, it's sweet. Ryan will love it."

Shane ran his fingers down the cloth. "I don't know. It's kinda crappy."

"Yeah. Don't go into flag making as a career," Balance Beam said bluntly. "No one else would want that."

"Gee, thanks for the support," Shane grumbled, folding it back up.

"But that's the point, dumb ass. No one else would want it because it's special; just for Ryan. Humans love that shit."

"Fine. I'll give it to him, I guess." Hopefully it's good enough.


And there it was. Ryan's door. Shane couldn't wait any longer. He knocked... and knocked... and knocked. He could bang on the door, but the demon's trying this new thing where he's not an inconsiderate asshole. Shane cautiously opened the door and stepped into the darkness.

Ryan was huddled in his bed, fast asleep. His nightstand was littered with bottles of sleeping pills. He'd let his stubble grow out, making him look like he’d aged years since Shane last saw him. His hair was a tangled mess. The covers twisted around his small body, curled in on itself. His brow was furrowed and his eyes were squinted shut. It was as if he’s making conscious effort to stay asleep.

Shane frowned. Ryan must've been having a hard time since he's been gone. Harder than he'd expected. Was it selfish to wake Ryan up? Was it worse to make him wait any longer?

Shane looked down at the fabric in his arms and thought of a compromise. He could leave the flag with Ryan, allowing him to sleep, and he'd know Shane had been there when he wakes.

Ryan whimpered softly and Shane couldn't stand it. He quietly sat on the edge of the bed, scooting closer to the quivering form wrapped in blankets. How does one comfort a human without waking them up?

What was really bothering Shane was Ryan's hair. His best friend wasn't much into fashion, opting for t-shirts and sport shorts most of the time. (He still looked fantastic.) The one thing he did care about was his hair. Ryan's dark locks were usually styled to perfection, in a way that put Greek gods to shame. The real magic of Bergara curls is how they manage to be defined, yet soft. Shane should ask him sometime.

But tonight, his hair was as tangled as devil's snare, matted into thick knots. Begging to be fixed. Carefully, Shane reached out and swept some of the curls from his face. The effect was instant. The crease on Ryan's forehead disappeared, and he stopped whimpering. It must be helping. Shane sat there a few moments longer, gently running his hands through Ryan's hair. Until he hit a stubborn knot.

"OUCH!" Ryan swatted his hand away.

Leave it to Shane to ruin the moment. "Sorry!"

Ryan slowly rolled over and sat up. Something was off. Ryan stared at him blankly. Through him was more accurate.

“Um, hi?”

Ryan didn’t react. Shane didn’t recognize this emotion.

“Are you mad at me? Because I’m really sorry...”

Ryan didn’t even blink. This wasn’t right. Unless he was going for a zombie impression. In that case, it'd be perfect.

“Ryan? Are you still asleep?” Shane cautiously placed his hands on his shoulders.

Ryan jolted, gasping and falling backwards. Shane jumped as well. The flag fell forgotten to the floor. “What the...” Ryan said groggily, pulling the blankets closer.

“Hey, hey, it’s okay, it’s just me...” Shane said as soothingly as he could. He was a little unsettled himself.

Ryan looked at Shane. Rubbed his eyes. Looked at Shane again. “It's really you this time?”

This time?

“Yes, it’s me. It’s Shane.”

“Don’t fuck with me,” Ryan’s voice cracked. “Please. I can’t take it anymore.” Shane's heart sank.

“Ry, it’s me, I promise. Here, touch me.” Shane held out his hand. Ryan tentatively reached for it. His warm fingers gripped Shane's.

“Shane?” He’d finally gotten through to him.

“Yeah, it’s me.” Shane breathed a sigh of relief. “C’mere little guy. It’s okay.” He pulled his best friend into an embrace.

Ryan was shaking in his arms. “I was worried about you...”

Shane’s not sure if anyone’s ever worried about him before. He didn't like it. “It’s okay. I’m fine, Ry. See?” Still holding Ryan, Shane reached over and tugged on the bedside lamp's chain. The light flicked on. "All good."

With hazy eyes, Ryan tentatively reached up and touched him. He traced Shane's jawline, caressing his cheek, smoothing over his eyebrows, running his fingers down the sharp point of his nose, outlining his lips. He was mapping his features. Checking, making sure. Shane let him. He tried to remain as still as possible.

"You're okay," Ryan breathed. Shane nodded.

The human pulled him back into a hug, burying his face in Shane's neck. Shane closed his eyes and leaned into it. Once he'd gotten used to it, the demon realized touch was easy. Easier than words, at least.

Something soft brushed against the crook of his neck. And then a little higher up his neck. And across his jaw.

Shane's eyes flew open.

Ryan Bergara was kissing him, following the same path as his fingertips. Shane's eyes fluttered closed as Ryan planted warm kisses on his cheek, getting closer and closer to his mouth... And that's when the spell broke.

Shane pushed Ryan back, gently but firmly. "Hey, we can't do this right now."

Ryan’s eyes went wide. He flushed a bright red. "Oh my god, I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry-"

"Don't be."

Ryan backed up against the headboard. "I didn't mean... I'm sorry; I thought we were on the same page, oh my gosh-"

"No, Ryan, I'm just saying not now-”

The human's hands flew to his forehead, pushing back his unkempt hair. "Oh jeez, I probably made you so uncomfortable-"

"I'm fine, dude."

"I messed everything up, didn't I? I'm so sorry-"

"What's a little smooching between friends?” Shane tried, chuckling lightly.

"I can't believe I did that..."

Ugh. Shane wanted to just grab Ryan and kiss him to shut him up, but that would defeat the whole point here. Ryan kept going:

"You probably hate me now. Oh god, I hope you don't hate me-"

”Aw, come on, I could never hate you.” Coherent Ryan would know that. It hurt Shane to see his favorite human talk about himself so disparagingly. What had he been through these past two weeks?

Ryan was still panicking: “I was so excited to see you again and then I had to go and ruin it-”

”No, no, you didn’t ruin anything.” Actually, if Shane weren’t so concerned right now, his heart would be soaring. This meant at least some part of Ryan, even if it’s small, wanted him too. “Shhhhh. You need to breathe, little guy. Have you slept? Like, at all?”

Ryan didn’t answer, which was an answer in itself. He kept babbling:

“That was so stupid of me, I don’t know why I even thought-”

“Hey, that’s my friend you’re talking about," Shane said firmly. "You’re not stupid.” Ryan shook his head.

Shane smoothed his hands over Ryan’s shoulders and down his arms, hoping the touch could ground him, at least a little. His distressed friend didn’t tear his gaze away from his hands, twisting in his lap.

Shane tried to speak as slowly and clearly as he could: "Ryan, listen, you're really out of it. I’m saying you’re in a bad head space, and I'm not going to take advantage of you. Not that I don't want you like that." Because he really, really does.

Ryan didn't seem to hear. "I can't believe I did that. I'm mortified. And now I'm freaking out; that's even more embarrassing!" He was mostly talking to himself at this point.

"No, Ry, it really isn't..."

"I made everything weird. You're my best friend, and I just made everything weird-"

How do you get through to someone who's mostly asleep? Shane needed Ryan to stop torturing himself. He tried snapping his fingers in front of his face. Snap, snap, snap!

"Hey! Earth to human! Over here!”

Ryan blushed furiously as he forced himself to make eye contact. Shane relaxed a little. "Good. Now, listen to me. You didn't do anything wrong. You didn't make it weird. We're fine. It's fine!"

"But-"

"No buts! Ry, baby, you really need to sleep. Please." Shane leaned back and ran his hand through his hair, fully exasperated now.

"Will you... will you come back?" Ryan asked nervously, looking past Shane at his closet door.

"What?" Shane looked over his shoulder, realizing what Ryan was getting at. "Of course. And I'm not leaving you." Shane couldn't fathom leaving his best friend in this state. Even if this wasn't all his fault.

"You don't have to stay. I know I made it weird..." Ryan mumbled.

"You didn’t,” Shane assured him (again). “Think about it like this: would I really be staying here, in the same bed with you, if you did?"

Ryan’s muddled mind took a minute to process. "I guess not..." he eventually concluded.

"That’s right. You’re stuck with me, baby. Now get over here," Shane said firmly, opening his arms, "because I'm about the cuddle the fuck out of you until you realize I still like you. You brought this on yourself, Bergara."

Ryan looked confused.

"For the love of..." Shane's not normally this forward, but someone had to take control of the situation. He flicked off the light and then pulled the human to his chest, pushing a pillow under his head and wrapping them both in the blanket, making sure it covered the human's feet (covering Shane’s was a lost cause). Ryan didn't protest, meekly snuggling closer to his side. "Now shhhhh. We’re fine. I’m not leaving."

He wasn't supposed to be with an assignment for more than an hour. So much for not breaking the rules. But this was much more important.

“Shane?”

Shane shifted so that his chest was pressed up against the human's back, running his hand down Ryan's arm before taking hold of his waist. This way, he could hold onto him all night. He’d be right there if his human needed him. “What’s wrong, Ry?”

Ryan reached down and grasped Shane's hand, intertwining their fingers. "Nothing. I just missed you.”

The human was asleep before Shane could answer.

"I missed you, too,” he whispered.

Chapter Text

Ryan awoke to sunlight kissing his skin, feeling suspiciously well-rested. That wasn't right. Every morning, he got up before the ass crack of dawn so he could get to work on time despite the shitty LA traffic. Squinting in the bright light, he blindly grasped for his phone. Why was it unplugged?

10:23 A.M.

Ryan's stomach dropped. So he had been getting too much sleep.

"Shit, shit, shit. I'm late for work!" Ryan threw the covers back.

"No, you're not." Shane yawned next to him. Ryan jumped as the mortifying details of last night resurfaced. All he remembered was his crush rejecting him and then spending way too long assuring they were still friends. "Go back to sleep." Shane rolled over so his back was towards Ryan, pulling the blanket with him.

"Yes I am! It's a Wednesday, Shane. I have work!"

"Nope. I called you in sick."

"You WHAT?!"

"Yeah." Shane rolled back over and laughed sleepily. "I did a really good impression, too." His rough voice grew nasally: "Sorry, I can't come into work today. I'm sick. I think the g-g-g-ghost in my apartment gave me the flu." Shane nuzzled into his pillow.

"You didn't," Ryan said flatly.

His demon friend finally opened his eyes to shoot him a wink. "Okay, sure, I didn't. Either way, I really did call you in sick. Because look at you." He gestured vaguely before closing his eyes again.

Ryan's mouth fell open. "What's that supposed to mean? I'm not sick!"

Shane reached over and snatched Ryan's pillow from under him, using it to cover his other ear like makeshift earplugs. "Yeah, I know, stupid. I'm saying you need your sleep. You really wanna waste your day off yelling at me?"

"It's because of you that I have a "day off" in the first place!" Ryan said indignantly.

"Yeah. You're welcome."

"I'm going to kick your demon ass."

"Sure. Later." Shane rolled himself into a little satanic burrito.

"I mean it. You might be the ~Prince of Hell~, but the Prince of Hell hasn't met these fists!"

"Ry, we both know you can kick my ass. That's a given. Just kick it after I get my beauty sleep." Shane reached over the yanked the curtain closed, blocking out the harsh light. The thin curtain separated the cool, dark room from the incessant heat and restlessness of Los Angeles. As great as this city was, its residents had no idea how to relax. Ryan might've forgotten himself.

Ryan's anger was dissipating. He really could use some extra sleep. And the warmth radiating off his best friend was so inviting. One last thing:

"I can't go back to sleep if you're hogging the blanket. Give it back." Ryan yanked the navy comforter off his friend's lanky body.

"Ryannnnnn," Shane whined, "I'm cold!"

"Go burn in the fires of Hell, then."

"Hey! That's culturally insensitive!" Shane tugged weakly at the blanket, but Ryan knew he was going to give in. Predictably, Shane eventually got up and walked out of the room, grumbling unintelligibly. Pushover.

This gave Ryan unwanted time to think about what happened last night. He was mortified. Ryan really, really just wanted to forget it happened, but he recalled the look on Shane’s face when he thought Ryan did that a few weeks ago. He can’t do that to a perfectly innocent demon.

A minute later, Shane returned, donning a Lakers' blanket like a fluffy cape. Still grumbling, he crawled in bed beside Ryan and pulled the covers up.

"So..." Ryan began awkwardly. Shane turned towards him and raised an eyebrow, a silent go on. "Um, about last night, uh, I'm acknowledging it happened. I'm not going to pretend it didn't, but I was mostly asleep and not really aware of what I was doing. I mean, I was, but I wasn't. Those sleep meds hit me hard... Like, I remember, but not really? And I'm sorry, again. Uh, I'm really just trying to say..." What was he trying to say?

Shane's smile was faintly amused. "Ryan, you're hurting yourself,” he said calmly.

Ryan sighed. "I am, aren't I? I just... I'm sorry. Can we just, uh, move past this, please?"

"Sure, if that's what you really want. It'd be better to talk about it at some point, though. When you're ready; no rush. We're all about healthy communication, right?"

Ryan's jaw dropped. Shane Madej was lecturing him on emotional maturity. And he was totally right. Ryan could only nod.

Shane sat up on his elbow, raking his other hand through his nearly-sentient bedhead. "But, uh, I should say in the meantime, like, it's not like I didn't not want things to like... y'know? Well actually, I guess you don't know. Um..."

Ryan smirked. “Shane, you’re hurting yourself.”

Shane gave him a relieved smile. "I kinda am, aren't I? Ugh. Words are hard."

"They are," Ryan agreed. "So... we're okay?”

"Yes, Ry, we're okay," Shane said soothingly.

Ryan yawned.

"Awww," Shane cooed, "Is the human sleepy?"

"Maybe a little," Ryan admitted. "I just haven't been able to sleep because, y'know, anxiety..." He didn't want to lay on the guilt by specifying what his anxiety was about.

Shane nodded understandingly. "It's okay. C'mere." He pulled back his blanket, inviting Ryan into the warmth and safety that was his best friend's side. Ryan smiled and scooched over. He was happy to cling to him like a koala. Shane laughed quietly. "I've got you. Go back to sleep, silly human."


Ryan awoke again a few hours later, feeling disgruntled at the loss of warmth beside him. He blearily opened his eyes. Oh no, did Shane leave again?

CLANG! Ryan jumped. The loud noise echoed from the kitchen.

"Ouch! Motherfucker!"

Yup. That was Shane. What has the idiot done this time?

Ryan pulled back the covers and entered the kitchen to see his friend rubbing the back of his head and grumbling:

"Why do your cabinets have to be so low?" He gestured to the wooden edge he'd just smacked himself on.

"Why do you have to be so tall?" Ryan retorted. "And why are you looking through my cabinets?"

"I was going to make you breakfast in bed." He was? "But you don't have shit. Even I know humans need more than coffee to survive."

Ryan's kitchen was, admittedly, not well-stocked. He guided Shane to sit down at the table while he rummaged through the freezer.

"I was planning on getting food!" Ryan defended. "I just fell asleep." He handed Shane an ice pack.

“I don’t want this; it’s cold!” Shane tried to give it back. “And where do humans get food, anyways?”

“Cold is the point, dumb ass! Didn’t anyone ever teach you how to take care of yourself?” Shane just looked down, still rubbing his head. And then it occurred to Ryan that maybe no one had.

“They did,” Shane finally said, still not making eye contact. “I’m just, y’know, stupid.”

Shane Madej has always been a terrible liar.

“No, you’re not,” Ryan said firmly. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it; I’m just hangry. Here,” he said gently, taking Shane’s hand and guiding it to hold the ice pack against the back of his head, “Like this. The ice numbs the pain and brings down the swelling. And it was really sweet of you to try to make me breakfast.”

“Thanks,” Shane said quietly.

At that moment, Ryan resolved that if he ever meets the King of Hell in person, he’s punching him square in the face. Consequences be damned.

Ryan sat down next to Shane. “You okay?”

“Yeah. It’s just kinda throbbing.” They both knew that wasn’t what he was asking about, but Ryan let it go.

“Oh, okay. The ice should help. Humans get food at the grocery store, by the way.”

Shane finally looked up. “The grocery store?”

“Yeah? Where do you get it?”

“The factory supplies everything. It’s basically a company town. We get our weekly supplies delivered. And child care, laundry services, medical care... we get it all through work.”

“That’s convenient,” Ryan offered. “My place barely even gives out snacks.”

Shane set the ice pack on the table. “Yeah, you’d think that. Until you realize they’re only offering these things so you never have to leave. Who needs a life outside of work, right?”

Ryan laughed. “Of course Hell is capitalism central. Damn, and I thought the U.S. was bad... Hey, want me to show you the grocery store?”

“Umm...” Shane considered. “It’s against the rules, obviously, but I don’t see how they’d find out. But is it safe? Like, for me?”

Yes, a demon just asked if Trader Joe’s was safe.

“Yeah dude, you’ll be fine.”

“But there’s going to be so many people there!”

Ryan raised his eyebrows. “You guys are afraid of us?”

"No!" Shane said defensively. "It's just that we're not, I'm not, used to so many of them at once..."

Ryan smiled. A demon shouldn't be this adorable. "It's okay, bud. I'll protect you from the Karens."

"There's going to be Karens there?!"

"No! Well, yes... Well, kinda, but it'll be fine. You trust me, right?"

"Yes."

"Alright, cool. It'll be fun; I'll buy you snacks!"

"... Fine." Shane stood up from the table. "Let me just check back with work and make sure I'm not missing anything important. I'll get Bowl Cut to cover for me. And then I have to go home and feed my kids."

"Sure, sure. Tell Bowl Cut I say hi. And spiders 1-1,367."

"Will do."

Ryan tried to ignore the pinch in his gut when Shane passed through the portal in his closet. He's coming right back...


On the drive over, Shane pointed out humans like how you'd point out farm animals on a road trip.

"Ryan, look! A soccer mom!"

Ryan was happy to play along. "Yup, I see her!"

"Oooh, are we going past a school? There's those things... Um, not children, not teenagers...?"

"Tweens?" Ryan offered.

"Yeah, tweens!" Shane said excitedly. "And, hey, look at the street corner: boulders!"

"Boulders?"

"Um, humans that do drugs and like Bob Marley?"

Ryan laughed. "Stoners?"

"Yeah, stoners! Dude, this is like a human safari!"

Shane was transfixed by the window. Ryan smiled. Demons really shouldn't be allowed to be this cute.


"Ryan! Ryan, what is this?"

"That's a shopping cart, Shane."

"But it has a seat in it... And a little steering wheel?"

"That's just for kids," Ryan explained.

"Children steer these things?" Shane looked over the cart doubtfully. "Well, I'm not gonna fit, so I guess I'll have to push you?"

"Fuck off, I'm not that small!"


Shane didn't have horns or a tail or anything, so he looked human, besides the freakishly tall thing. His real difficulty was acting human.

"Ryan, there's an entire wall of refrigerators!"

"Yup. That's the frozen section." His demon raced off to investigate.

A few minutes later, Shane returned, looking panicked.

"What happened, dude?"

"A human talked to me! A woman!" Shane's eyes were wide. "She asked if I could get something off the highest shelf for her."

"Okay... What did you do?"

"I turned right around and went to find you."

Ryan chuckled. "Smooth, man."

"What was I supposed to do?!"

"Help her?"

Shane smacked his forehead. "Ugh, this human thing is hard."

"It's okay, dude. How about you just stick with me from now on?" Ryan offered his arm like Shane always did in Hell. He might’ve lowkey flexed his bicep when Shane touched it. "Here, want to help me choose some milk?"

Shane's jaw dropped. "Whole milk, skim milk, one-percent, two-percent, almond milk, soy milk, oat milk, chocolate milk... maple milk?! This is overwhelming; are you sure we're not still in Hell? Wait!" He gripped his head. "Maybe THIS is the bad place!"

"... Almond milk, it is."


A half-hour later, their shopping cart was overflowing with all these "cool new human snacks." Ryan's wallet was hurting already, but it's hard to say no to such an excited expression. He put his foot down when Shane tried to grab two boxes of Pop-Tarts.

"Nope. You only get one, so you have to choose: Hot Fudge Sundae or S'mores?"

Shane looked between the two boxes in his hands. "But they're so different!"

"Not really?"

"I don't know if I'll ever get to go to a human store again..."

"It's fine. I'll buy you the other flavor next time."

The demon kept looking back and forth in distress.

"... Fine," Ryan grumbled. "Put them both in."

Shane's eyes lit up. "Really?"

Ryan nodded gruffly. He was beyond whipped, but the enthusiastic hug that followed was worth it.


The boys stood outside the closet door, as they had so many times before. "Want to take some snacks back with you?" Ryan asked.

Shane looked at the groceries longingly. "I'd love to, but I don't want to get caught. Smuggling is against the rules."

"Lucky for you, you're looking at the master of sneaking candy into over-priced movie theaters." Ryan offered to show him how, but Shane didn't want to risk it. Which was fair, considering how many rules he'd just broken (all for Ryan).

"Guess you'll just have to keep coming over, then."

Shane smiled. "Yup, guess so."


Back at the office, Break Room was grumpy. Shane might've told Clavis about his little joke regarding Ouija Board's names. Whoops. Across the lunch table, Clavis was covering her mouth and giggling. Her laughter started up again every time she looked over at Bullshit’s scowl.

Shane smiled warmly at Clavis. It's official: he loves her. Platonically, of course. (Come on, the anti-christ isn't capable of romantic love.)

"I don't even know what to call you now," Clavis chuckled.

"I'm never forgiving you for this one, Shane."

"There’s just so many options! Buttercup, Blossom, Bubbles..."

Shane snickered. Brightness Settings wishes he was cool enough to be a powerpuff girl.

"What if I called you a different name for each day of the week?" Clavis leaned back and began counting on her fingers. "Monday: Burn Book, Tuesday: Binoculars, Wednesday: Blue Jay..."

"Thursday: Bummer," Shane added helpfully.

"Ugh! I get it already!" Bummer complained.

"Just a few more," Clavis giggled. "Benefiber, Ancient Burial Ground, Bible Belt... Oh!" She perked up. "I got it! How about I just call you Boyfriend?"

Ah, yes. The one name Shane would never call him.

Eye Brow's cross expression vanished. "Wait, really?"

Clavis leaned over and kissed Give me a break! Give me a break! Break me off a piece of that Kit-Kat bar! on the cheek. "Yes, really."

Chapter Text

As an ex-scarer, Shane's familiar with fear. He's trained to recognize the signs: rapid breathing, sweaty brows, clammy hands, dilated pupils, and, of course, screaming.

Scarers aim to set off their assignment's fight or flight response during sleep paralysis. If they do it right, the autonomic nervous system kicks in, flooding the human's rigid body with adrenaline. Racing thoughts trample over logical reasoning as the demon creeps closer. The assignment's insides churn like clothes in a washing machine. One final shriek... And, look at that! The meter's full.

Shane knows fear. He sees it every time he has to leave Ryan.

Guilt? That's new.

Shane felt terrible about leaving his human for two weeks with little explanation. He knows what it's like to be abandoned. And the look on Ryan's face when he left... Almost as bad as the look on Ryan's face the night he returned. The worst part? Ryan won't even let Shane apologize. He keeps saying there's nothing to be sorry for, but why does Shane still feel like this? The guilt won't go away.


First, Shane tried to make up for it with Bergara Bandera.

It seemed to work... temporarily. Shane remembered sitting with Ryan on his couch, explaining the symbols while Ryan ran his hand over the cloth in wonder. He said he loved it.

The next night, Ryan didn't answer the door. That's strange; they'd agreed on 7pm. Shane cautiously stepped inside and saw, to his dismay, Ryan hadn't hung up the flag. He understood, though. It's an oversized, gaudy thing.

Still no sign of Ryan, so Shane checked the living room. And there he was, fast asleep on the couch, using Bergara Bandera as a blanket. As fucking adorable as it was, Shane couldn't help noticing the way his brow furrowed as he clutched the flag tighter in his sleep.

It was clear the human was out for the night. Shane was happy to let him sleep, so he left Ryan a little "I was here but you were passed out, sweet dreams bro," note on a post-it and placed it square on his forehead. Can't miss it there.


Clavis was passing by as Shane exited Ryan's door.

"Hey, Shane! How's your human doing?"

The question was so genuine that it deserved a genuine response: "Not great, honestly."

"Oh?" She stopped and frowned. "What's wrong?"

"He's having trouble with his anxiety after that whole Holly thing..." Thankfully, Shane didn't have to expand on that.

"Poor thing," she said sympathetically. "I hope you know it's not your fault."

"That's what everyone says," Shane sighed. "But he's still upset. Every time I leave, he worries I won't come back. I don't know how to reassure him."

"You're so sweet." (Clavis is the only one allowed to call him that.) She stepped forward and touched his arm. "Unfortunately, this isn't an easy fix. Trust comes with time."

"Alright," Shane said resignedly.

She still looked concerned. "Is there any way I can help?"

"Not unless he loses his car keys. But thanks. Really. I appreciate it."

"Of course!" She smiled warmly. "Let me know if you think of anything."

As she walked away, Shane thought about how she reminded him of Ryan. While they had different personalities, each had a way of making you feel totally accepted. Special, even. Compassion was their default, possibly to a fault. But yeah. Cinnamon rolls, inside and out. They'd like each other.

Oh! Shane perked up. He had an idea.


"Hey Ry, how would you like to meet an angel?"

That smile could only be described as "Christmas morning."


"What should I wear?" Ryan was rifling through his closet, pulling out various shirts and holding them out.

"Uh, clothes?"

"No, I mean, should I like, dress up?"

Shane glanced up from his seat on the bed. "No need, buddy."

"I just..." Ryan scratched the back of his head. "She's an actual angel. I want to make a good impression. I already put away all my books and movies with inappropriate themes." His eyes widened. "Oh no, I barely ever go to church. Will she be disappointed in me?"

"I don't see how you could disappoint anybody," Shane said. He walked over and took the shirts from his stressed-out human. He handed Ryan a lavender v-neck. "There. That one will look great. And going to church doesn't mean you're a good person. She knows that."

Ryan's eyes widened. "Am I a good person? I mean, by her standards?"

"Of course you are." Shane hung up the remaining shirts as Ryan searched his dresser for some pants.

"I haven't, like, volunteered for charity or anything recently."

"You don't need to be perfect," Shane assured him. "The bar is low." He laughed. "C'mon, she's friends with me."

Ryan stopped riffling through his drawers. He turned. "You're good, Shane," he said firmly. "Of course you are. Don't let anyone make you forget that."

"Oh." Shane really, truly didn't know how to respond to these things without making a dumb joke. "Uh, thanks buddy. Haha..."

Ryan nodded and turned back around.

Shane finished hanging up the rest of Ryan's shirts and stepped out of the closet. "I'm just saying you don't need to worry. She's not here to judge you, man. That's not the point at all."

Ryan slumped on the bed. "Then what is?"

Shane felt extra protective of his human lately. He sat down and put his arm around him. “You could ask. She’d explain better than I can.”

Ryan leaned his head on Shane’s shoulder. “Okay,” he said quietly. “Yeah, I think I will. If she doesn’t mind.” His hands twisted in his lap.

“Hey... is this stressing you out?” (Shane recently learned a human hack: if you don’t know how someone is feeling, you can just ask!) “Because we don’t have to do this; she’d understand.”

Ryan lifted his head up to look at Shane. “No, no, I want to! Sorry, I’m just being weird right now.”

“That’s okay. You can be weird.” Normally, he’d say no weirder than usual, but his human was delicate at the moment.

Ryan snorted. “And look at you being nice. My gosh, who have we become?”

Shane dropped his arm. “Do you not want me to be?”

“No, no, you’re being so sweet.” (Fine. Ryan can call him that, too. But that’s it! Shane has a reputation to uphold.) “I really appreciate you, man. You’re amazing.”

“Oh.” Shane blushed furiously. “Thanks.”

He was saved by a knock at the door.


Picture a puppy meeting a kitten. Maybe a Rottweiler puppy, and one of those white, fluffy kittens. The babies are both a little nervous, a little hesitant, but they haven't learned to fear each other yet. Who is this creature that looks like me, but isn't me? They look back at their respective owners. Is this okay?

Tentatively, they approach, ready to flee at the slightest sign of danger. The puppy whines and the kitten jumps. The kitten squeaks and the puppy jumps. They trot around in circles, sniffing curiously. Doesn't smell like me. What's happening?

The puppy licks the kitten's face. She winces and bats her paw at him. Play time? The puppy braces his front legs on the floor and wags his tail in the air. The kitten tilts her head. The puppy licks her again. This time, she chases him to make him stop, and he excitedly runs faster and faster. PLAY TIME! Soon enough, they're best friends.

That's Ryan meeting Clavis.

Did Shane and Basement melt into the floor? Yes. Yes, they did.

Battle Field led Clavis into Ryan’s room by hand. She looked around in wonder before her twinkling eyes set on Ryan. "Um, hello," she said shyly. Her wings tucked in around her shoulders. "You must be this human I've heard so much about."

Ryan blushed. "I can only imagine what Shane's told you. Hi, I'm Ryan. Um, does your kind shake hands?"

"Not usually... but I know how!" She held out her slender, dark hand and Ryan took it. The human and angel shook.

Ryan stepped back, rubbing his arm. "Um, I've never met an angel before."

“That’s funny; I've never officially met a human before. We're not supposed to interact..." The angel clasped her hands behind her back and rocked on her heels. "But I've always wanted to," she added quickly.

Ryan laughed. "Thanks for interacting with me."

At this point, Shane and Buddy System had faded happily into the background, content to watch the cuteness unfold.

Ryan took in her fluffy, white appendages, which had relaxed gracefully onto the floor. "Are those... Um, are your wings real?"

"I think so." She looked back and smiled. "Want to check?" Her left wing extended outwards.

Ryan looked over at Shane, who smiled and nodded. He reached out and dragged his fingertips lightly down her feathers. "Wow, they're so soft..." He looked up at her in awe. "Can you really fly?"

"I can, but not here," she explained patiently. "Earth has too much gravity for that, and so does Hell. Things are much lighter in Heaven. I couldn't tell you exactly why." She shrugged.

"Oh..." Ryan thought about it. "That makes sense!"

He was about to ask another question, but she beat him to it: "What's breathing like?"

The human was taken aback. "Breathing?"

"There's not much oxygen in Heaven," Shane interjected, "which is why I can't take you, even if they'd let demons in. Angels don't need to breathe; they run on pure ~selflessness.~" Ah, yes. At least Hell is inclusive. You're all welcome there.

"Shane!" Ryan scolded. "Don't be rude!"

Clavis just laughed. "Yeah, that's it. But really, I don't understand how humans respirate. Do you like it?"

"I mean, it keeps me alive, so yes?"

She tilted her head. "But isn't it loud? Having a sound inside of you?"

"I've never really thought about it." Ryan rubbed his chin. "I'd say it's like a ticking clock in the background. You don't notice it, unless you're paying attention." He held out his wrist. "Um, do you want to feel?"

She looked back at Homemade Banana Cream Pie, who smiled and nodded. She stepped forward, and Ryan guided her hand to the inside of his wrist. Her dark brown eyes lit up.

"There's three main ways to check someone's pulse, which measures beats per minute," Ryan explained. "Most people use the wrist, but you can also check the carotid artery, I think it's called. It's in my neck." He guided her hand upward.

"It's so warm! But where's your heart?"

Ryan smiled shyly and moved her hand one last time. "Here."

Did Shane care about Clavis having her hands all over his human? Nah, they're adorable.

"Fascinating! It feels like Brent's. I love it!"

"It does?" Gastric Bypass finally stopped blending in with the wallpaper. "Can I see?"

Ryan nodded. Bambi's Dead Mom stepped up and placed his hand on Ryan's wrist. "Yeah, feels the same! I've heard human anatomy isn't too different from a demon's." He smiled wryly and touched Ryan's neck. "I guess because you're all sinners or something.”

Did Shane care about Blue's Clues putting his hands all over his human? You bet he did.

"Alright, that's enough, Lunch Box."

"What?" Lunch Box turned. "You let Clavis do it!"

"I'm just saying, maybe he doesn't want to get felt up by the Zodiac Killer." Bootlegger dropped his hand in offence while Ryan suppressed a laugh.

"Will you stop accusing me already?! I wasn't even alive during the murders! I wasn't born yet!"

Shane walked over and grabbed Paddington from the shelf. "Ryan, this is a safe place,” he said gravely. He held out the bear. “Show me where Broom touched you."

Ryan cackled while Clavis covered her mouth and giggled.

"I fucking hate you, Shane."

"Touché, Bibble."

"If you're so jealous, why don't you get over here, big boy?" Ryan challenged. His voice had lowered an octave, sending chills down Shane's spine. But he knew the flirty tone was just teasing.

Not knowing how to respond, Shane walked sheepishly towards the human standing radiantly next to their two friends. Bop It stepped back to give him some room. Shane's glad he did, because if he kept his little Zodiac fingers on his human much longer, he might've just picked Ryan up and started hissing. Platonically, of course.

Ryan smiled so intensely that it didn't seem real, like Shane imagined it'd be like to see the Grand Canyon; your brain can't process that much beauty at once, so it defaults to "not real." His friend held out his arm invitingly. Here goes nothing?

Ryan jumped a little at the contact as Shane pressed two fingers to the inside of his wrist.

"Oh, I think it just skipped a couple beats!" Clavis exclaimed, still holding the other wrist. Aw, jeez. Hopefully this wasn't making Ryan uncomfortable. Shane started to pull away, but Ryan gave him a small nod that said it's okay. Shane smiled shyly.

Human contact is weird. It's not bad, necessarily; Shane just doesn't understand how something can be soothing and invigorating at the same time. Aren't those opposites? Anyways, Ryan's skin was warm and smooth. And the fact that he could feel the blood keeping his human alive flowing just beneath that delicate skin made it that much better.

Ryan laughed nervously, catching Shane's attention. When he had it, he turned his head in a way that bared the side of his throat, making the hard line of his jaw even more defined. The taller carefully moved his fingers to where the shorter was implying.

"Hey, it just sped up! I can feel it!" Clavis exclaimed. She counted wordlessly. "It's over 100 now!" In the background, Bud Lite facepalmed.

Whoa. It's not supposed to change that fast. Shane really hopes he's not making him feel weird. "You good, buddy?"

"Y-Yeah, t-totally fine," Ryan said unconvincingly. He reached up to hold Shane's hand where it was. If he says so...

The feeling before had multiplied tenfold. Shane felt the same softness, but the skin of Ryan's neck was peppered with a light dusting of stubble that poked at the pads of his fingers. Shane decided he liked that better. His human's neck was much warmer as well, warmer than anything in Hell.

He met Ryan's eyes as he lifted his fingers from the fast thumping in his neck and lightly placed his hand on Ryan's pectoral. It felt so intimate that Shane fought the urge to back out and retreat.

Forget the other two points; this was the most intense contact yet. Shane had big hands: thin, long fingers and wide palms. But when he placed his hand on his human's chest, it looked small against the rippling, hard muscle he'd so rightfully earned. The high tempo of his heart was intoxicating. Shane felt the warmth seep into his own skin, causing fire to flow molten in his veins.

He didn't miss the sharp intake of breath as he involuntarily brushed his thumb over the man's nipple. Whoops. So much for not making it weird. The organ beat impossibly faster.

"Ryan, are you sure you're okay?" Clavis asked worriedly. "I think you should sit down."

Oh man, how long has Shane been touching him? In front of a forgotten audience, as well. He quickly pulled away. Both boys' faces were red as a stop sign.

"Sorry," Shane said awkwardly, not knowing who it was directed at.

"N-No, d-don't apologize..." Ryan stuttered out. Once Shane overcame his embarrassment enough to look his best friend in the eye again, concern overtook him as well. Only one of them was sweating in this chilly room. He should've been paying more attention.

"Oh shit, Ry, what do you need?" Shane guided him to sit down on the bed over his objections. Ryan snatched a pillow and placed it over his lap.

Ryan shook his head. "I'm fine, I swear. I just need a minute. Um, can you all stop staring at me, please?"

Clavis suddenly became very interested in the storybooks on the shelves. Babadook didn't move from where he's been facepalming in the corner for the past five minutes. Weirdo.

Shane wasn't convinced. He leaned down and placed his hand on Ryan's shoulder. "I'm gonna go get you some water, okay? I'll be right back."

With that, Ryan's flustered expression collapsed into relief. So that's all he needed? Huh. Guess he was just thirsty.

Chapter Text

You know how Shane's been trying to see Bergara Guitarra for, I don't know, 55 chapters? Ryan absolutely refuses to play even one damn chord.

And then he talks to Clavis for five minutes, who reveals she likes to sing and play the harp (duh). What does he do?

"Alright," Ryan said decisively from the doorway to the hall. "You and Brent need to go play by yourselves so I can show her the song I'm writing."

Shane threw his hands up in the air. "Seriously?! You're gonna leave me alone with the Bubonic Plague?"

Bubonic Plague crossed his arms. "Oh yeah, because you're so fun to be around? Wasn't planning on babysitting tonight."

"Yup, we're kicking you out," Clavis said cheerfully. She was sitting cross-legged on the floor, clumsily attempting to strum the acoustic guitar. "Hey, this is like a sideways harp! Can you show me a chord, Ry?"

Ryan looked over his shoulder and beamed. "Sure!" He turned back. "Bye demons!" SLAM!

Okay, this whole human/angel bonding thing was adorable. Was. Now that Shane's stuck with the most insufferable living creature to ever exist, he's over it.

The two demons were still standing outside the closed door. Shane sighed. "Come on, Butterscotch."

"It's Brent!"


Ryan stood at the door until the footsteps faded. He turned to Clavis and grinned. "Okay, the reason I wanted them to leave is because the song's for Shane!" He supposed Brent could've stayed, but Shane needed supervision.

Clavis brought her hands up to her mouth and squealed. "Oh my gosh, how cute!"

Ryan scratched his head. "About Shane might be more accurate. He has no idea I'm writing it."

"But you're going to show him, right?"

"I don't know." Ryan plopped on the floor across from his new friend (who's an angel!!!). "If it's good enough, maybe. And there's a lot of feelings in it. Shane doesn't like feelings."

"He likes you." Clavis smiled. "Shane talks about you all the time; it's so sweet. I feel like I already know you."

"Oh," Ryan blushed. He never knew how to respond to these things. "Thanks."

"Sure!" Clavis lifted the guitar off her lap. "Want to show me what you have so far?"

"Um, okay." Ryan took the guitar and pulled out some crumpled lyrics from his pocket. "It not gonna be very good..."

"Aww, Ryan, don't doubt yourself." She reached over and squeezed his shoulder. Warmth flooded his body. Much more comforting than the searing heat from that debacle last chapter. "If it's from the heart, it'll be amazing."

And not an ounce of sarcasm. Did she just step out from one of Ryan's story books?


Shane and Breadwinner stood aimlessly around the kitchen.

"What do you want to do?" Shane asked.

Bergara Bandera shrugged. "I dunno; I've never been here before."

"Good point."

"What do you and Ryan usually do?"

The honest answer was cuddle and talk, but Shane would literally rather die than do that with Barf Bag. “I dunno.”

Potato Bug raised his eyebrows. “You really don’t know what you guys do?”

Okay, fine. The SUPER honest answer was snuggle and try not to fall in love because love is terrifying and it couldn’t possibly last and Ryan’s a human so what future could they even have together and anyways, Shane’s the anti-christ, he can’t love so maybe he shouldn’t worry at all, but even if he could, Shane's not cruel enough to be a demon, but not human enough to be a human, and Ryan Bergara deserves the fucking universe and-

“Uh, Shane? You’re making a dumb face. Do you have gas or something?”

Shane blinked and mentally returned to the room. “What? No...” He turned to the sink to pour himself a glass of water. He took a big sip to compose himself.

"You're fucking weird. Let's just watch Netflix."

Shane gestured grandly towards the living room. "Lead the way, Dust Bunny."

"It's Brent!"


"So, what do you have so far?" Clavis asked.

"Uh, just the first verse and the chorus." Ryan arranged his fingers into an A minor chord. He hesitated. "Um, I'm not a great singer, and I'm still pretty new at guitar..."

The angel smiled. "You can do it."

"Um, okay." Ryan took a breath and sang shakily:

You're like the monster in my closet
The thought of you is in my head
My heart was in a safe deposit
But now you make me laugh instead

"Uh, I don't actually think he's a monster, of course," Ryan said awkwardly. He could feel a blush blooming on his face. "I don't know, I guess it's kinda like a metaphor-"

"-I LOVE IT!" Clavis exclaimed loudly. Ryan almost jumped. Her expression was so excited that it could only be interpreted as genuine. "So that's how you two met? You were his assignment?"

Ryan nodded.

"Talk about a meet cute! Oh my gosh, people could write fanfiction about you guys."

"Thanks, haha..." Ryan couldn't see why anyone would. It'd be like fifty chapters of absolutely nothing happening. Who'd bother writing that, much less reading it? "Um, did the lyrics work?"

"Definitely! That's so Shane, to be nice to his assignment. He's such a sweetheart. I have no suggestions."

Ryan gained a little confidence. "Okay!" He strummed a G chord. "Here's the next part..."


“I can’t believe you still haven’t seen Game of Thrones,” Web Browser remarked. “C‘mon, let’s watch the first episode.”

Shane yanked the remote from his hands. "Absolutely not. We're watching Mama Mia."

"No, no, no, you sing those songs enough at work." Boogie Man climbed over Shane's lap and snatched the remote back. "It's almost Halloween! Let's watch something scary. How about..." He scrolled through the available options. "Annabelle?"

"Annabelle?" Shane scoffed. "Lame. Her raggedy bratz ass is straight up weak sauce."

“I don’t know; I’ve scared a couple assignments by playing her. But fine.” Last Braincell suddenly laughed. “Hey, why is Twilight in the horror section?”

Shane snorted. “That movie about the sparkly stalker? I thought it was romance?" Because of that damn series, Shane couldn't play a vampire without the assignments shamelessly hitting on him.

“To the humans, apparently, but I’ve never seen it.”

“Me neither.” The demons grinned at each other before speaking in synch: “Twilight it is.”


Scare me to death, I could stay up all night
'Til I pass out in bed, yeah
Scare me to death...

Clavis pursed her lips as she scribbled something down on the back of Ryan's lyrics. "How about adding this?" She sat up straighter and sang: "I would stay up for you, though you have no clue."

Ryan's mouth fell open. To be as cliché as possible, she had the voice of an angel. Or Whitney Houston. (Same thing, anyways.) A smooth vibrato, powerful in its softness. "Wow. That's perfect! And your voice is beautiful."

She smiled shyly. "Really?"

"Definitely. I might need some lessons." Ryan laughed. As much as he loved music, that kind of talent didn't run in his family.

"No, yours is great, too!" she said earnestly. "I love hearing you sing. Show me more!"


"RUN, BAMBI!"

"Why are you telling me to run??"

"No," Shane gestured at the deer on the screen. "I'm talking about that Bambi. Oh shit, too late." Shane cringed. "That was cold, Edward."

"Well, I've heard he's a vegetarian..."

"Are you watching?! The dude literally just ate a deer."

"No, no," Berry Boy clarified, "he's a vegetarian vampire. As in he doesn't eat humans."

"So you're saying... he's a vampire... who won't bite you." Bailey's Irish cream nodded. Shane was appalled. "Is there anything less sexy?! What's the point of having a vampire boyfriend if you two can't do freaky vampire stuff. Unacceptable."

"Wait until you find out he's decided to go to high school for all eternity."

"WHAT?!"

Chapter Text

Bella Swan stood in a forest, facing away from Edward while he loomed behind her like a straight-up serial killer. "You're impossibly strong... and fast... Your skin is pale white and ice-cold... Your eyes change color... And sometimes, you speak like you're from a different time."

"He literally doesn't? He sounds like an emo high schooler."

"Shut up, Shane! This is the good part."

"This is as good as it gets?!"

"You never eat or drink anything... You don't go out in the sunlight... How old are you?"

"Seventeen," Edward said lowly.

Bella looked like she was about to puke. Shane just might. "How long have you been seventeen?" she asked.

"... A while."

"What, is he like hundreds of years old? And she's 16?"

"Sounds like it."

Shane stood up. "Where's Ryan's phone? I'm calling Child Protective Services."

Last Brain Cell grabbed Shane's arm and yanked him back down. "Sit down, idiot! Pay attention!"

"I know what you are..." Bella gasped.

"Say it. Out loud," Edward ordered.

"Frosty the Snowman," Shane deadpanned.

"What?!"

"Yeah! Ryan made me read the story a few weeks ago. He's cold, doesn't eat or drink, can't be in the sun for too long..."

Legally Blonde giggled. "And impossibly fast and strong?"

"Uh, well he's magical, so like, maybe? He definitely talks like he's from a different time. Either way, Frosty's better than this jackass."

"Agreed."


Clavis finished transcribing the new lyrics while Ryan tried to get the chords down. She stuck the pen behind her ear and held out the paper. "It's perfect!"

Ryan grinned. It's nice to have an angelic stamp of approval. "Only because of your help!" His smile faltered. "Maybe one day I'll actually play it for him."

"You'll get there." Clavis stood up and smoothed her white, flouncy skirt. "Shall we go get the boys?" She opened the door and frowned. "Sounds like they're watching something..."

“I can read every mind in this room apart from yours. There’s… Money. Sex. Money. Sex. Cat… And then you, nothing. No thoughts at all.

"Yeah, because she doesn't have any," Brent commented from the other room.

Shane snorted. "BURN!"

"Oh my gosh," Ryan said. A quote that dumb could only be from one movie. He stepped outside and yelled, "Are you demons seriously watching Twilight?!"

"No!" Shane called back.

"Yes!" Brent called back. "And we're not done yet! Go play by yourselves!"

"Wow," Ryan chuckled. "How the tables have turned. Should we be jealous?"


Shane smirked from the other room. If Ryan and Clavis stayed in the hallway, he'd be able to overhear this next part. "Pause it," he whispered to Rock Bottom. Rock Bottom obliged.

See, Shane had a little plan to make his human jealous. Since Booty Call and Clavis ~share everything with each other~, she already knew about his and Brazilian Bum-Bum Cream's accidental kiss. (You know, when Shane almost died.) She agreed to "accidentally" let it slip to Ryan.

"Um, speaking of jealousy..." Clavis began hesitantly. Shane sat up straighter on the couch, ears alert. "I should probably share something with you."

"Oh?" Ryan asked.

"Yeah. Um, I hope this doesn't make things weird between us..."

"I'm not waiting anymore." Björk pressed play, blasting Frosty the Vampire's latest existential crisis: You're like my own personal brand of heroine...

"Hey!" He couldn't hear them anymore. Shane lunged for the remote, but Bereavement Leave held it just out of reach, chuckling. "Give it back!"

The two demons squabbled on the couch until How to Befriend the Monster in Your Closet voluntarily paused the movie.

"Finally," Shane grumbled, climbing off Box's lap. (That was NOT on purpose.)

"Oh, hey guys," Bus Station said casually. Shane froze and turned around.

Clavis and Ryan were standing in front of them. Clavis was biting her lip and looking at the ground while she rubbed her arm. Ryan's expression was unreadable.

"Shane... tell me the truth..." he said lowly. "Did you kiss Brent?"

Here's the moment! "Umm..."

Ryan burst into laughter. Clavis joined him; Shane realized she'd been hiding a smile.

Shane was taken aback. His human bent over and clutched his stomach as he wheezed with laughter. Even Butt of the Joke was chuckling next to him.

"Ryan-" Shane began.

"HAHAHAHAHAHHAHHA!!"

"Ryan!"

"How the hell do you kiss someone on accident?!" Ryan chuckled.

"He kissed me!" Shane said indignantly. "And I was trying to instruct him on seduction!"

And with that, everyone lost it. Ryan collapsed onto the floor while Clavis fell back on the couch, giggling incessantly. Baby Bib wiped a few tears from his eyes. Shane crossed his arms sullenly while he waited for them to get over it, already. It's not that funny!

"We'll let you guys finish your movie," Ryan said cheerily. "I just had to confirm that." He turned and headed back to his room.

"Can't believe you beat me to it, Shane!" Clavis giggled before following him. Hmph.

Shane huffed to himself while Brady Bunch resumed the movie. Well, that certainly clears things up. Ryan Bergara wasn't jealous at all.


Bella and Edward are slow dancing at prom in a white gazebo studded with twinkling lights. The other couples walk away, since they can't stand the lack of chemistry. Bella is being reckless AF.

"I just want to be with you forever..." the literal 16-year-old begs. Does she even know that means?

"Forever?" She nods. Edward dips her, exposing her neck to his non-fangs. "And you're ready right now?"

"Yes."

He leans in...

"Oh my god, is he seriously about to do this in front of everybody?" Shane complained.

Beside him, Vampire Bat jumped. Clavis had popped up behind him, grabbing his shoulders. "Boo!" she giggled, kissing his neck.

"Aww, you got me!" Light Bulb laughed good-naturedly. "C'mere you." He turned and pulled the angel onto his lap. She laughed as her wings wrapped around him like a feathery hug.

Aren't they adorable? Or disgusting. Depends on how Shane's feeling about Bathtub that day. He frowned. But where's-

Strong hands came down on Shane's shoulders. He yelped and instinctively tried to jump away, but the large hands held him down.

"Boo," a voice whispered against his ear, raising the hairs on the back of his scalp. Shane tried to turn around, but the teeth teasingly grazing his neck kept him still.

"Ryan! Cut it out-" Shane lost his train of thought when something nipped at his neck. This time, the hands let him go when he jerked away. "RYAN!" Shane jumped off the couch and stood up, rubbing his neck and pointing at his human accusingly. "You bit me!" he gasped.

Ryan just smirked. Bunsen Burner and Clavis were still giggling.

"Guys!" Shane complained. "He actually bit me!" Not that it hurt, but it was certainly shocking.

"Looks like you got your 'freaky vampire stuff' after all," Federal Bureau of Investigation said with a wink.

Ryan looked confused. "Wait, what-"

"FORGET IT!" Shane yelled. The entire room did not need to know he was lowkey turned on right now. This human is going to be the death of him. Who knew Ryan Bergara would make a better vampire than Edward Cullen?

Shane tried to shoot Ryan a stern look, but the human winked at him. Shane's jaw dropped. Before, scaring Ryan Bergara had been strictly off-limits. But rules can change. (Only for Shane, of course. If anyone else tries to scare his human, he'll dropkick them into the deepest pits of Hell.)

Clavis' wings opened so everyone could see her face again, besides Bonnie and Clyde in their makeout cocoon. "We came in here because we have something to show you guys!"

"We wrote a song!" Ryan said excitedly. "For... Brent."

Huh. Shane could've swore Ryan almost said his name, but that'd be ridiculous. Who'd write a song for Shane Madej?


Clavis sat on the edge of Ryan's bed while Ryan sat next to her, holding an acoustic guitar. Clavis was sitting with proper posture, her hands relaxed on her lap and a slight blush on her cheeks. Ryan was beet red and fidgeting furiously.

"I don't even know how to start this," Clavis giggled.

"Um, I guess I could like, count you in?" Ryan offered. "1... 2... 3... 4..."

I felt restricted when you found me
You set me free
Baby, you gave me a kiss
And a face to miss

Lose your keys and make me laugh
Your sweetness saved in a photograph
Even the Zodiac couldn’t match your spree
Cause you’re killing me with so much glee

My wings, they flutter around you
You’re my Baby, Bad Boy, Boyfriend and so much more
Buttercream you taste so sweet
And I felt the Brunt of the hit when I fell for you…

Did Clavis really just insinuate her boyfriend was a serial killer in a love song and give him five new nicknames in the process? Legendary.

Shane supposed Clavis blushed when she tripped over the lyrics a few times. Shane supposed she'd look over at Ryan and whisper "start over, please?" when she did. He supposed her wings swayed gently to the melody. Shane supposed Bow and Arrow went on quite a face journey, from touched to indignant to complete adoration.

But Shane couldn't tell you for sure, because he'd been watching Ryan the whole time. He'd finally gotten to see Bergara Guitarra, and the wait was worth it.

Was Ryan a great guitar player? Not really. His hands weren't quite in synch. His clumsy fingers were the opposite of nimble. The duet had to pause a few times because he forgot the chords.

Yup, that was it. Someone was gonna have to mop him up because he’d just melted faster than a popsicle in the heart of the desert. Clean up for Shane Madej on aisle three. Because the human's poor guitar playing was so endearing. Oh, shit. Now he's got Shane using words like "endearing." Abort mission.

The song didn't so much end as much as the two just stopped playing. Ryan and Clavis didn't even get to open their mouths to ask for feedback before they were tackled by their respective demons (out of love).

Whoa, wait. Not to imply that Shane, like, loves Ryan, or anything. Jeez. Onto the next section.


Brent and Clavis were about to leave, but Shane was nowhere to be found. He hadn't returned after he went to the bathroom. Where the hell has the idiot gone off to? Ryan walked around to investigate. He cupped his hands around his mouth.

"Hey moron, it's time to get out of my apart-"

Ryan screamed.

Something had come up behind him. Ryan's pupils dilated as he was dragged from the artificial light of the hallway into the darkness of the cramped coat closet. "Hey-!"

Ryan had always liked to think he'd be strong enough to fight off an attacker, but this one gave him no time to react. He struggled to get the arms off his waist as his heart pounded in his chest.

A voice behind him laughed darkly in his ear, sending chills down his spine. "Gotcha, human."

Chapter Text

The dark laughter turned into something more natural, something more familiar: soft, low chuckling. Ryan knew whose laugh that was.

"Relax, human," Shane said fondly, releasing Ryan's waist to stroke down the sides of his arms comfortingly. "It's just me."

Ryan exhaled. He wasn't sure if he was more relieved or annoyed. That asshole almost gave me a heart attack. That gave him an idea. I'll show him.

And with that, Ryan gasped dramatically and clutched his chest.

Shane's hands stopped moving. "Ryan-?"

Ryan closed his eyes and went limp, falling backwards in a true trust fall. His guardian demon caught him, like he knew he would. "RYAN?!" He stumbled back with his hands under Ryan's armpits, struggling to right him in such a cramped space.

"Fuck!" Shane swore frantically. "Ryan, wake up!" He shifted to support Ryan's dead weight with one arm so he could feel around in the dark. "Where's the exit to this thing? Is this the wardrobe to fucking Narnia?!" Shane's breath hitched as he realized Ryan wasn't stirring.

"RYAN, YOU HAVE TO WAKE UP BECAUSE I DON'T KNOW CPR! ALL I KNOW IS THE FREAKING HEIMLICH MANUEVER!" Ryan's mouth twitched. He was so close to losing it. "C'MON MAN, IF YOU DON'T WAKE UP RIGHT NOW YOU'RE GONNA HAVE TO GO LIPS-TO-LIPS WITH BRONT-"

Ryan burst out laughing. "Gotcha back, demon!" The arms around him fell away.

It was too dark to see, but Ryan could clearly picture Shane's appalled expression. "Not funny!"

Ryan was still cracking up. "No, you're right. It wasn't funny; it was hilarious! You were gonna Heimlich my heart attack away?"

"No, I said-"

"What exactly did you think I was choking on?”

"I'll give you something to choke on," Shane growled. "My foot!"

"Sure, I'm sooo scared," Ryan said while pushing past some coats. "Now, where's the exit?"

Shane stepped in front of him. "Oh, I don't think I can let you leave after that."

"Step aside, demon!"

The demon blocked his path.

"Hey!"

Ryan and Shane giggled as they each felt around for the exit. Ryan's hands slid over cold, flat walls, warm fleece, and the even warmer flannel of Shane's shirt. Shane's large hands did the same. His warm fingers skimmed over the bottom of Ryan’s shirt, making him shiver. His thumb even dared to brush the small patch of exposed skin at Ryan’s hip-

"Hey! You stepped on my foot!" Shane exclaimed. (Ryan had jumped involuntarily, because he just had to go and ruin the moment.)

"That was on accident."

"OW! You did it again!"

"THAT was on purpose,” Ryan laughed. Nothing like provoking the antichrist.

"Why you little... I'm gonna get you!"

Even though Ryan was quite literally backed into a corner, he wasn't afraid. "Like you'd ever hurt me."

Shane paused. "You're right; I wouldn't. But that doesn't stop me from doing this!"

Ryan squealed as his friend's long fingers tickled down his sides. He couldn’t stop himself from laughing as he squirmed to get away. He ended up with his back pressed to the nearest wall as a fucking demon fucking tickled him. (God, this story is ridiculous.)

That is, until the wall gave way beneath him.

Apparently, Ryan had been leaning on the door, which Brent had opened, sending the giggly boys sprawling onto the floor. Oof.

“Are you guys okay?!” Clavis rushed over to help.

"It's about time you two came out of the closet."

“What?” Ryan responded. “No, we were just-” What were they doing?

“We came over because we heard screaming,” Clavis explained as she helped Ryan up. “We were going to help, but then the yelling turned into giggling, so, um, we weren’t sure what you were doing in there...” She looked away with a blush.

If only.

“No, uh, I was scaring him,” Shane clarified, “to get him back for earlier.”

Brent raised his eyebrows. “Didn’t we agree scaring is wrong? And we’re not going to do it anymore?”

“Enough with the judgment, Baby Shower!”

“Especially to Ryan,” Clavis added, crossing her arms. “That’s not okay, Shane.” She looked as stern as her demon boyfriend now.

Shane’s face fell. “But I didn’t mean, um...”

“No, no, it’s fine,” Ryan interjected. “He was just being a little shit.” Ryan didn’t know why he felt the need to defend Shane, but he did. Why was it okay? He thought about it for a moment before coming to his conclusion: “There was no shapeshifting or bringing up childhood trauma or anything like that. Shane scared me... like a human.”

Even Shane looked surprised. No one spoke for a moment.

“If you’re sure you’re okay...” Clavis finally said.

Ryan nodded.


Clavis and Brent said their goodbyes with several hugs and promises to visit again soon. Only Ryan and Shane were left.

Shane rocked on his heels by the door. He couldn’t seem to look Ryan in the eyes.

“You okay, dude?”

“Yeah. Yeah I am.” Shane finally made eye contact. “Um, I wanted to apologize. They were right. I’m sorry, Ry. I wasn’t thinking about it like that, like a scare assignment for work. I didn’t mean... I guess I kinda, like, forgot what my job was for a bit?”

“That’s okay,” Ryan said gently, touching Shane’s arm. “It’s fine, it really is. I promise.” Shane didn’t respond. “I accept your apology, though,” Ryan added. “And I’m sorry, too. I scared you first, and then I took it too far with the fake passing-out. Sorry I made you worry.”

His best friend still looked uncomfortable.

“Shane?”

Shane shifted on his feet. “Um, I know we’ve talked about this vulnerability thing...”

Was he saying what Ryan hoped he was saying?

Shane exhaled. “I guess, what I’m trying to say, is I forget I’m a demon when I’m with you.”

Ryan was stunned. He wasn’t sure what to say. “Um, is that a good thing?”

Shane’s hazel eyes brimmed with a sadness that seemed too old for him. A pain that surpassed his 31 years. Ryan thought about the self-proclaimed “worst demon in Hell” in front of him. A scarer who doesn’t want to scare, but he’d never really had another choice. Does he have one now?

“I don’t know.”

Chapter Text

"Do you want to talk about it?" Ryan offered. The boys were still standing by the closet door.

Shane looked pale. "Um... I swear, I'm not trying to shut you out... I just don't know what to say."

"It's okay. Are you tired? Do you want to go home?"

"Yeah, I'm kinda tired, but I dunno..." The demon looked away and rubbed his arm. The thing about Shane is he never really seemed to know what he needed, which made it confusing for Ryan as well. What stood out here was Shane wasn't running away, for maybe the first time. Some part of him must want to share...

"How about you stay for a bit? I could use the company." It was late, but Ryan Bergara's sleep schedule has been fucked up for a long time; this couldn’t hurt too much. “We could talk, or not talk, about whatever you want."

Shane nodded.

"C'mon, let's go sit down." Ryan took his friend's hand and let him to the couch. Shane sat down quietly. He played with the frayed ends of an old blanket. He either wasn’t aware or pretended not to notice Ryan studying his face.

"You okay?" Ryan asked softly.

"I don't... know." Shane rubbed his eyes. "God, I sound so stupid-"

"Hey, hey, no, you're not stupid." Ryan reached over and pulled Shane's hands from his face. Shane immediately looked down, but didn't pull away. "I think I know what's happening." Ryan gently lifted his chin. "Can you look at me please?"

Shane glanced up. His hazel eyes were misty and unfocused, but he tried his best to do what was asked.

"Okay," Ryan said carefully. He took a breath. "Okay. Shane, I think you're dissociating." Unfortunately, he knew from experience.

"I don't know what that means..."

"That's alright. I'll explain. Do you feel detached from your body, confused, zoned-out, dizzy, anything like that...?"

"Yes," he said simply. It seemed as much as he was capable of right now.

"Okay. I know it's scary, but you're going to be fine. I promise. This is your mind’s way of protecting itself. It’s a natural reaction to something that upset you. An emotional trigger." Ryan knew not to ask what did it. "It's happened to me, too, a couple times. It's a very human response." Ryan cringed. He regretted using that word as soon as it came out of his mouth.

"I'm not human..." Shane mumbled. He didn't sound angry; just numb.

"No, no you're not, but I think your brain works similarly... Psychology should still apply."

"We don't have that. Just astrology." Shane laughed bitterly.

"Damn, no wonder you're so screwed up," Ryan joked, trying to lighten the tension. "I'm kidding," he said when Shane didn't respond. "Sorry."

"It's alright."

Ryan's ridiculous, cocky, hilarious, bitingly-sarcastic, absolute sweetheart of a best friend was quiet. Blank. An empty shell.

Ryan's heart shattered. He should've never blamed Shane for running away when things got emotional; this must be what happens when he doesn't. Since he couldn't escape physically, his mind had to retreat inside itself.

"Shane, there's nothing wrong with you," he blurted. He needed him to know that. Tears welled up in Ryan's eyes, but the recipient of his words didn't react. Ryan swallowed and held it in; he had to be strong right now. Clearly, words weren't working.

It was an emotional night for the both of them. On the one hand, Shane had forced himself to be so vulnerable and open that his circuits overloaded. The poor guy’s brain had completely shut down.

For Ryan, it was emotional because it pained him to see someone he cared so deeply for in such turmoil. He’d sensed the oncoming identity crisis for a while now, and here it is, in full force. And they’d barely skimmed the surface.

"Sorry, I won't make you talk anymore. Are you okay with being touched right now?" Ryan hesitantly set his hand on Shane's knee. He searched Shane’s face for any change, positive or negative. None occurred.

"Yeah." It came out nearly robotic, with no hint of underlying emotion behind it.

"Okay. C'mere." Ryan pulled Shane to his chest and sat back on the couch.

"What're we doing?" At least there was some feeling in that response, albeit slight and somewhat confused.

"We're just gonna lay here and wait this out. This will pass eventually, and then you'll feel better. Okay?" He nestled his cheek into the chestnut tuft of thick hair that the demon so selfishly kept to himself. Softly digging into the hair in a small to and fro motion, Ryan closed his eyes. It was so unbelievably soft, he’s pretty sure silk and satin were forever ruined for him. It'd never be able to compare to what he was resting his head against.

"Okay. Thanks, Ry,” Shane whispered, still so vulnerable. It’s as if he was afraid that if he spoke any louder, some cosmic thread would snap and bring forth Armageddon. The raw exposure and underlying fear in Shane’s tone clenched Ryan's heart like a hydraulic press.

Involuntarily, he felt his arms tighten around his friend’s frame on their own volition, like it was all that was needed to protect Shane from anything and everything that tried to harm him. If only.

A hand cradling his neck brought him back to the present. It was reluctant, but so warm and soft that it melted Ryan completely. It was any wonder he was still in any solid shape. The other one slipped gently up his bicep, the tips of Shane's middle and ring fingers disappearing under the fabric of his t-shirt.

Ryan was spellbound by the contrast of Shane’s long, pale fingers against his sun-kissed, golden skin. Shane's analog watch gleamed in the artificial lights of his living room, the dark leather band a near perfect match for his own skin tone.

Ryan began to gingerly trace meaningless shapes and patterns into the warm cloth on Shane’s shirt, his fingertips just light enough to make it a comfortable kind of tickle. His other arm was slung low over his back.

Their legs were tangled together in a comfortable mass of limbs, Ryan’s right calf hooking atop Shane’s left. The calming rise and fall of Shane’s chest against his fell into a harmony and rhythm that Beethoven wouldn’t have been able to dream of. Ryan smiled to himself. It couldn’t be more clear that his best friend felt comfortable and safe with him. They've come so far from the demon who pulled away every time Ryan reached out. Ryan won’t let him down.

"What if I fall asleep?" Shane mumbled into his chest. He sounded well on his way.

"That's fine. You can sleep; I'll be here."

"Promise?"

"I promise. I won't leave you, angel." Ryan stiffened. The pet name had slipped out so naturally. Maybe because, 6 months ago, when Ryan was hopeless and lonely and about to give up on his dreams, he'd asked for an angel. Maybe because, several nights after that, this lanky buffoon kept breaking into his room and baffling him and making him cry with laughter. Maybe because the lanky buffoon quite literally chased his fears away, until Ryan remembered who he was again.

Probably because an angel was exactly what he got.

Even after Ryan learned Shane was the exact opposite of a heavenly apparition, he'd never stopped considering him one in his head. His angel. But that's a secret. At least, it was supposed to be.

Shane's breathing had evened out, his back rising and falling slowly. Ryan could feel his eyelashes fluttering on his neck and his warm breath fanning his chest. His best friend was fast asleep in his arms. Guess he hadn't heard.


Shane closed his eyes as scalding water hit his face and scorched down the rest of his body. The water splashed off his forehead and cheeks and dripped off his jawline and nose before cascading down his tense shoulders, tight chest, and stiff back until the muscles released. He exhaled and turned around, facing away from the stream. Reaching for a loofah, he noticed the pale skin on his arm was blotchy and red. Yeah, the water was probably too hot, but the burn felt better than nothing. Besides, fire can’t kill a demon. Ryan was right; the heat and steam of the shower were helping him feel like himself again. His usual Satan-spawn, permanent-resident-of-Hell self.

"You okay, bud?" Ryan was leaning against the bathroom wall, playing a game on his phone. Tap, tap, tap. He wasn't comfortable leaving him alone. Shane was thankful he was there (and thankful the curtain with the ridiculous fish on it wasn't transparent).

"Yeah, I'm good." It was a relief that his voice sounded stronger than before.

"Alright." Ryan must've believed that, because then he said: "I'll be right back. I'm just going to go get something. Call me if you need me, okay?"

"Will do." Shane made liberal use of all the shower products. Yeah, maybe he overdid it, but now his hair smelled like ocean spray, his face smelled like fresh mint, and his body smelled like a pinewood forest. He'd get to go to bed tonight smelling like Ryan Bergara.

"You done in there?"

"Yeah." The curtain peeled back a bit. Ryan was handing him a fluffy, pink towel while he faced the other direction and covered his eyes. Shane smiled and took it. The soft cotton enveloped his body as a cool breeze rushed in.

"It's warm," Shane said in wonder.

"Yeah, I put it in the dryer."

God damn it. God damn it. Curse Ryan Bergara for making him feel quite literally warm and fuzzy. Not that it was anything new.

"Thanks, Ry..."

"Don't worry about it. I'll let you get dressed." The nicest human on the planet closed the door on his way out.

Shane stood there in shock for a moment. He couldn't deny it anymore: Ryan Fucking Bergara was going to be the end of Shane Madej as we know him.

He wasn’t sure that was a good thing.

Chapter Text

As kind and understanding and patient as Ryan was, Shane still couldn't provide him with an explanation of his behavior, because he didn’t know himself. "Dissociation" is a new word for him. Demons don't do that, to his knowledge. The only one who'd know about that would be... Shane groaned to himself on the couch.

"What is it?" Ryan rushed over from the kitchen, where'd he'd been scooping vanilla ice cream into two bowls. "Are you okay?"

Whoops. "Yeah, yeah, I'm fine." Ryan didn't look convinced. "I was groaning because I realized I don't know much about demon psychology, which means I'm gonna have to ask Bastard Child about this mess.” He gestured vaguely at himself.

"Oh." Ryan laughed lightly and sat down next to him. The boys' knees knocked together, but neither pulled away. "That's probably a good idea. Brent's so nice. I'm sure he'd love to help."

"Ugh. He would. So insufferable."

Ryan tilted his head. "It's insufferable that someone wants to help you? Sometimes I have no idea where you're coming from, man."

"That's fair. Me neither."

"No, really. I don't know when you're kidding or not." Ryan sat back on the couch, away from Shane. "When I handed you that towel, you looked furious for a moment there..." he said with a slightly hurt expression. Fuck.

"Oh my gosh, no, no!" Shane leaned forward and took Ryan's hands, because apparently that's something they do now. "I only reacted that way because it was so nice. You're so nice. Honestly, it's one of the kindest things anyone's ever done for me. It was so thoughtful; it caught me off guard, is all."

Ryan frowned. "You were mad... because I was nice to you?"

Dammit. Why do words have to be so hard? "I wasn't mad at you, Ry. I'm never mad at you. I was mad at myself."

"For what?"

Ryan Bergara's really not letting him off the hook this time, is he? "Um..."

Ryan leaned forward and placed his hand on Shane's knee. "I'm not upset with you, dude. I just want to understand. What happened earlier..." Shane cringed. "That was your body's way of saying something's wrong. You don't have to talk about it now, but I think you need to eventually. I can't imagine what you've been through, considering who raised you..."

Asdfghjkl. Shane wished he was anywhere, anywhere but here right now.

Ryan took his hand away. "You don't have to talk about it with me, either. Just someone. Or even like, a journal or something."

Shane shook his head and laughed lightly. "Ryan, if there was anyone on this planet or the underworld that I would talk to about this stuff, it'd be you."

His emotional support human smiled softly.

"I trust you, Ry. I really do. I just..." Shane faltered. "Hey, wanna meet my children? My spiders? I can't believe you haven't yet; they'd love you! Especially Doc and Sleepy and Happy and Grumpy and Sneezy and Dopey and Bashful- actually, maybe not Bashful. She's shy."

Ryan raised his eyebrows. "Oh, um, sure. Okay?"

"No, no, I'm not deflecting or whatever Bernstein Bear would call it. I'm trying to explain..." Ryan waited patiently, but Shane couldn't figure out how to finish that sentence. "I just think, if you met them, things would make more sense. I would make more sense," he added.

"I'm not following... but whatever you want, bud."

"Thanks, Ry."

Ry yawned.

"Oh shit, I've stayed way too long, you're probably exhausted. Fuck." Shane's really blowing it with this empathy thing, isn't he? He stood up abruptly. "I wasn't paying attention to the time. I'm so sorry. You have work tomorrow, right? God, what time is it?" He glanced at the digital clock over the stove. 3:45am. Great.

"Shane, it's okay."

Shane raked his hand through his disastrous hair, which was nearly sentient at this point. "No, no it's not. You're always putting me first. Damn it. Belfast, Ireland is right; I'm insensitive."

"Hey there, buddy, you gotta breathe." Ryan stood up and took Shane's shoulders. (Who knew he could reach?) "Shhhh. It's okay. I was aware of the time; staying up was my decision."

"But I don't know how to repay you... You said friends reciprocate." Shane's brows furrowed. "I mean, I guess I could come to work in the middle of the night and hang out here during the day with you-"

"Shane!" Ryan said, exasperated. "No. Bad demon. I want you to take care of yourself." He kept talking over Shane's feeble protests: "And yeah, friends do things for each other, but it doesn't have to exactly match. No one's keeping score. And if they are, they're not a good friend. I'm not using you to get favors, man."

Damn, when he puts it that way. "No, of course you're not." Because you're literally perfect and I'm a satanic trainwreck.

Ryan smiled. "Let's try this. How about instead of apologizing when someone does something nice for you, you say thank you?"

"Thank... you?" Shane said hesitantly.

His human laughed and punched him lightly on the arm. "Oh my gosh, you're too cute sometimes."

Ah, yes. Well, it's nice to know someone can find Shane's stupidity endearing.

"Now, c'mere big guy." Ryan held his stupidly ripped arms out. Shane smiled and hugged him without hesitation. Ryan patted him on the back and chuckled. "Now go home, demon. You've overstayed your welcome."

Shane's face fell.

"I'm kidding!"

"Oh." Shane laughed. "Okay. Bye human!" He ruffled Ryan's curls. Ryan glared at him and smoothed his hair.

"Aw, come on, did you have to mess it up? I have to get ready for work soon!"

"Yeah. Sorry," Shane said brightly. "Bye!"


You know how the boys were talking about Baby Back Ribs earlier? Speak of the Zodiac. He was standing right outside Ryan's door when Shane exited, like a total stalker. The kind to stalk Caucasian heterosexual teenage couples in cars at some type of secluded "lover's lane" area and stab them to death before fleeing the scene of the crime into the very depths of Hell.

"Can I help you, Peanut Brittle?"

"Ha ha. Very funny." Cool Story, Bro was frowning at the scare meter above the door. He gestured at the tiny, black arrow. "Can you explain this?"

Shane turned around to take a look. "What do you mean? Yeah, it's 92%, but that always happens. We've talked about this."

"But you scared Ryan earlier."

Shane sighed. "Listen, I apologized to him later, and he was fine with it, okay? Can I go one day without one of your lectures?"

Bell Pepper scoffed. "I'm not talking about that, idiot. I'm saying you scared Ryan and nothing happened. Nothing changed."

"Oh." Shane's eyes widened as he realized. "Shit, you're right." Human fear is supposed to make technology go wild, but nothing happened when he grabbed his "assignment." Absolutely nothing. "This was the first time I've legitimately scared him, too." We don't need to bring up Shane's past failures; he's sure you remember.

Bald Spot looked him up and down.

The more tolerable demon crossed his arms. "Why are you looking at me like that? Stop checking me out! I do NOT want to kiss you again-"

"I don't want to kiss you, you fucking moron!" Beanie Baby yelled. A few demons looked over curiously. The ones who've worked here for a while didn't; they're used to this. "The first time scarred me enough! Jeez. No, I was looking at you because I was thinking about something. So much weird shit has been happening since you got assigned to this door. You keep thinking it's Ryan causing it, but what if it's you? You've changed a lot these past few months."

Shane's mouth opened, then closed. God, don't you hate when Brass Tuba makes a valid point?

"I see you're still wearing the same clothes from yesterday..." Bailiff waggled his eyebrows.

"Shut the fuck up, Back Scratcher."

Chapter Text

Shane was thinking about Ryan.

A shocking statement, he knows. He's telling you this because Erin said Shane has to share his feelings with the readers more, because apparently that adds to the story. Whatever.

Look, Shane will do it, but he's never been able to manage it without sarcasm and stupid jokes. He'll try his best not to deflect this time, just... don't make fun of him, okay? Shane's finally admitting he has feelings here, so please don't hurt them. Ugh, and Erin said Shane has to stop playing dumb, too.

So fine. Yeah, Shane has feelings for Ryan, and yeah, he knows Ryan returns those feelings.

Surprised? The thing is, pretending Ryan doesn't reciprocate is easier. Safer. Because if he doesn't, they can remain best buddies and Shane won't have to drop his defenses and stop deflecting and process his trauma and ~open up~ and actually communicate. Y'know, because Ryan Bergara deserves to be in a relationship with an adult, not a demon whose emotional maturity level has barely hit puberty.

Is Shane's denial fucking ridiculous? Probably. Please, please don't make fun of him. Erin's really pushing Shane this chapter, because now he has to admit he plays dumb because no one else can make a joke of him if he already beat them to it. Haha, gotcha! He really showed them, huh?

Now Erin's insisting that Shane's not an inherent disaster, and he could succeed in things if he truly wanted to. This one's not his fault; it's subconscious. Like, Shane didn't intend to set Steven's desk on fire! He couldn’t face the possibility of rejection, alright? Of course, everyone rejected Shane when he initially "tried" to make friends, but at least they didn't reject the *real* Shane.

Shane's never talked about this before. He's never written about this before. And, looking at the words on the screen, it makes no sense. He knows it doesn't. But you asked for honesty, so this is what you you got.

And lastly, because Erin won't her protagonist keep anything to himself, Shane has to admit that he never wanted to scare Ryan. That's obvious now, but he's talking about from the very beginning. The one caveat: misspelling "Bergara" on the Ouija board was a genuine mistake. (He’s not a total idiot, but c'mon, he's not a genius. There's still plenty of that dumb ass you know and love.)

So yeah, Shane legitimately tried to scare Ryan Bergara for a grand total of one minute. He didn't have the heart to keep going, okay? He couldn't stand to see him cry. Your favorite demon really was the top scarer before this fateful assignment; he could've made Ryan piss himself so easily, but who'd want to do that?

Scaring sucks. Shane's always hated it. The big boss’s son is such a shitty employee because he has no desire to be a good one. Shane’s not interested in furthering Inferno’s mission of... what’s the word again? Oh right, torture. For most of his life, Shane’s tried to convince himself that this was his dream job (it certainly is for most demons). Maybe if he got really good at it, Dad would make more time for him!

... He didn’t. It hurt.

Deep down, scaring always felt wrong. Ryan helped Shane understand why.

The second night Shane was assigned to Ryan, Shane tried to make himself do his job. He really did. But when he saw his terrified expression, the only reasonable option was to "trip" over his own tail and ruin the scare. In Hell, it's better to be an idiot than to really understand what's going on. Ignorance is bliss, baby.

After that, Shane wasn't trying at all. He supposed he could've asked to be reassigned, and he almost did, but something about the human made him feel warm and accepted. Especially when he made him laugh. Instead of giving up Ryan, Shane gave up his ego. Oh, how the ~mighty~ have fallen. Even then, Shane would rather you think he's an idiot than see him for what he really is: fucking terrified.

But come on! You were laughing, Ryan was laughing, it was great, right? Funny? Light-hearted? You didn't have to think too hard. And now, Erin's gone and ruined the story. Thank her, won't you?

It's not her fault, though. Not really. It's no one's but Shane's. He's sorry if you feel deceived. If it makes any difference, he’s been lying to himself more than anyone.

That's it for now. Shane admitted his feelings and made everyone thoroughly uncomfortable. Sigh. You've enjoyed his character up to this point; you couldn't have endured 60 chapters if you didn't. Sorry things had to change. Shane doesn't know how you feel about the *real* Shane, and he's too afraid to ask, but he hopes you can understand, in some way.

(The other reason Shane wrote this chapter was because Ryan suggested he open up to Bagel Bites, but he'd rather shoot himself with a stapler gun, and why do that when he has you?)


Speaking of the most irritating demon in the underworld, Bonnie and Clyde rudely interrupted Shane's deep, thoughtful self-reflection.

"Shane, why did you leave your paperwork on my desk again? I told you, I'm not doing it for you anymore! And stop pretending you don’t know how!"

Since Shane was tied up in profound thoughts about Ryan and feelings and Ryan and self-growth and Ryan, his answer came out all wrong: "Can't you see I'm busy, babe?!"

Bamboo Stick's jaw dropped. As did Shane's.

Shane’s eyes widened in horror. "Babe RUTH! I meant Babe Ruth!"

Alas, it was far too late. Andrew's blonde head popped over his cubicle. "Did I hear that right?"

"No!" Shane protested. "I was saying-"

"JEN! GET OVER HERE! YOU WERE RIGHT!"

Jen walked out of the breakroom. "What do you want, Andrew? Couldn't it wait a damn minute? I was eating my lunch-"

"BRANEY IS CONFIRMED!"

Her hands flew to her mouth. "OH MY GOD! WHERE'S QEZZA?"

Qezza came out from the scare floor. "What's all this screaming about?"

"QEZZA!" Jen squealed, in a very not-Jen way. "YOU WERE RIGHT; BRANEY IS REAL!"

Qezza screamed. Not the scream of horror that's common in Inferno, no, this was a fan-girl screech. Shane covered his ears.

Katie stepped out of her office. "Did I hear that right? They're really together?"

Everyone nodded while Shane shook his head vigorously. Billy Goat remained frozen.

Katie frowned. "That's a strange pairing," she blurted. "Sorry, that came out wrong. I didn't mean that in a bad way; I'm just surprised is all. We're happy that you're happy. But since you're two co-workers in a romantic relationship, you'll have to sign some paperwork-"

"LISTEN, DEMONS! WE ARE NOT TOGETHER!" Shane bellowed. Everyone stopped talking.

"Aww, really?" Andrew asked. Shane was suddenly surrounded by a sea of disappointment.

"Yes," he huffed. "As I've said many times, I'd literally rather die. Now back off, everyone. There's nothing to see here." His co-workers somberly retreated to their cubicles.

By All Known Laws Of Aviation There Is No Way A Bee Should Be Able To Fly hadn't said a word.

"What the fuck do you want now, Bono?!"

Booster Club took a breath. "Shane, I know a Freudian slip when I hear one. I'm, uh, flattered, but as you know, I have a girlfriend who I love very much. I really value our friendship though, and-”

"I DO NOT HAVE FEELINGS FOR YOU, BUMPER STICKER!" Shane hollered. "Now leave me alone!" Bean Pole raised his hands defensively as he backed off. "And finish my paperwork while you're at it. It was due yesterday!"

What a fucking disaster. See, this is what happens when Shane talks about his feelings. You happy now?

Chapter Text

Did Ryan like spiders?

Not really. Those creepy creatures have way too many legs and way too many eyes crammed into their tiny bodies. He hates the way they move. They're either deathly still, or scuttling rapidly across his bed, or over the shower floor, or out of his sneakers. Whatever's the most startling. And the way they kill their prey? Terrifying. Paralyzing them, wrapping them up like mummies, and making them wait for their demise as they squirm in fear. They especially loved to do this in the laundry room Ryan shared with the other tenants, making the basement more like a crypt. Those little intruders don't even pay rent.

Is Ryan afraid of spiders?

Not really. Ryan Bergara was a scaredy cat, but not an arachnophobe. He knew none of the spiders native to his area were poisonous. He’s grateful to them, in a way, considering they keep the insect population at bay. (Fuck mosquitos.) Spiders are... misunderstood. The tiny things were much more afraid of him than he was of them, for good reason. He could end their short lives with one firm stomp.

But he didn't. Ryan would never. Just because something's a little weird, doesn't mean it deserves to die. No matter how much a spider made him jump, he'd always catch it in a glass and let it go outside. In fact, Ryan was the go-to spider catcher in his friend group, because he understood first impressions weren't everything.

Ryan wished you could've seen the way Shane smiled at him when he said that.

So it was for this reason that Ryan plastered a grin on his face and said "sounds great!" when Shane asked if he could bring his 1367 spiders over the next night.


At 6pm sharp, there was a knock on his closet door. Ryan sighed. If he wanted to make a good impression to a bunch of fucking spiders, he had to get over the "ick" factor. He steeled himself and opened the door with a smile. "Hey, Shane!"

"Hey, human!"

"Whoa, you got that?" Ryan helped his tall friend steady the gigantic glass tank in his arms.

"Haha, thanks. I got it, mostly. They're not heavy; it's just awkward to hold. Um, where should I put this?"

"Right here is fine." Ryan gestured at the gray carpet.

"Okay!" Shane set the tank down very carefully. The boys sat around the massive terrarium, allowing Ryan to finally take a good look. He tried his best to focus on the cool decorations, and not the literal demon spawn scuttling around them. His eyes widened. It was actually... amazing. Shane had gone all out.

White sand covered the bottom, studded with multicolored stones and succulents of all sizes. In the corner, there was a teeny wading pool with an even teenier slide. Holy shit, did a spider just use it? No, it crawled over it, that's all. Ryan was seeing things. Anyways, Shane must've set up some kind of light underneath the water, because it glowed blue, green, then violet on a loop. In the other corner was dark cave of some sorts, nestled in between...?

"Are those real trees?"

"Yup. Bonsais." Aren't those really hard to take care of? "Except for the Christmas tree." Shane pointed at a plastic tree decorated with tiny ornaments.

Ryan laughed. "Of course you got them a Christmas tree."

One spider was in the process of ripping the ornaments off and dragging them to its web. "Watch it, Sallie," Shane said sternly. "What are you, the Grinch?"

Ryan's laughter cut off when he noticed the spider actually stopped. No, it was startled by Shane's voice; it wasn't listening to him. That'd be impossible.

Anyways, a series of braided ropes dangled from the top, reminding Ryan of the obstacle course at his childhood summer camp. Delicate, silk strings weaved from rope to rope, connecting down to a tiny, ornate castle, complete with a drawbridge.

"It's ceramic," Shane said proudly.

"You made all this?"

"Yup. Only the best for them."

"Wow." It was all Ryan could manage.

"Guess we should start with introductions, right?" Shane knelt over the tank. "Listen up all you little ones, it's time to calm down. Your dad needs you to stop running around and bouncing off the walls."

Amazingly, they did. Ryan's jaw dropped.

"Okay, cool. Line up in order, guys. We've been practicing this; I know you can do it." The spiders arranged themselves in a creepy conga line, zigzagging around the tank. "Nice job! I'll give you guys some extra moths when we get home."

Ryan was stunned. "Can they seriously understand you?"

Shane smirked. "You bet. Alright kids, this is Ryan! Yes, the one I've told you about." Ryan waved awkwardly. The creatures didn't react.

"Ryan, meet Shane Jr." Shane Jr. hopped up to the top of the tank before retreating into the cave. "Shane III." The next spider in line did the same. "Shane IV..."


Introductions took a while.


"... And last but not least, Munchie!"

"Hi Munchie!" Ryan said, with all the enthusiasm he could muster after 1,367 introductions. "I don't know if I can remember all those names, but I'll try..."

"Wanna go over them again?"

"No thanks!" Ryan rushed out. "I'm good. Maybe later. But wow, these little guys are amazing. When you described them as children, I thought... I mean, I didn't think you were lying or anything, I just thought you were describing it in your Shane-way, y'know?"

Shane smiled as he lifted a spider off his shoulder and let it swing around his finger like a trapeze artist. Those things sure knew how to use their silk. "My Shane-way?"

"Let's just say... you have an interesting take on the world. Being a demon probably has something to do with it."

"Fair enough. You're pretty weird yourself." Shane winked, which gets Ryan every damn time.

"But Shane, how..." A larger spider crawled into the demon's hair. Ryan cringed, but apparently Shane was used to it. "How the hell did you give birth to magic spiders? You were a black widow, right? These don't look like that."

"Thank god. Those babies aren't half as cute." Shane reached down and separated two spiders who were duking it out by the wading pool. "It's kinda hard to explain. Shapeshifting is subjective; it stems from the mind. To turn into something, all demons have to do is visualize it. Each costume is unique, since they're derived from our personal imagination..."

"Meaning?"

Shane smiled as he set the spider down next to the wading pool. "Well, the thing is I didn't even know my spider costume was pregnant. It wasn't intentional."

"How did you imagine that by mistake?"

"Because it wasn't a mistake," Shane said simply. "Not really. I've thought about this for a while. Subconsciously, I wanted them."

"You really wanted 1,367 little creatures crawling around your home?"

"No, Ryan. I wanted a family."

Oh.

"They act like children because I've always wanted children," Shane explained, "but I didn't think that'd ever happen."

"Why not? Do you have an issue with...?" Ryan's gaze impulsively flicked down to Shane's crotch area.

"Jeez, Ryan!" Shane crossed his legs. "No! Everything works down there. Demon procreation works the same way as yours does."

That's certainly good to know...

"Why are you smiling like that, you weirdo?" The spider in Shane's hair crawled down his face and leapt off his nose like a diving board. Shane caught it easily and placed it back in the tank. "Whatever. Listen, I’m trying to have a ~heart to heart~ with you, so can we save the dick talk for later?”

Ryan wanted so, so badly to say “so we are having a dick talk, then?” Since he’s such a good friend, he nodded silently.

“Thanks. Alright...” Shane sighed. “Guess I should start from the beginning. Remember what I told you about my parents?”

“Of course. Your dad had an affair with a soul he was supposed to be torturing-”

“Emma. Her name was Emma,” Shane said softly. “I have her last name because Lucifer doesn’t have a one; it ruins his "cool." He wants to be like Bono or Madonna or whoever. But yeah, her name was Emma Amelia Madej.”

“Oh, okay. That’s pretty...” Ryan said carefully.

“She was. Dad doesn’t bring out the pictures often, but she resembled me a lot: hazel eyes, fluffy brown curly hair, unreasonably tall and thin. She towered over my father.” He chuckled. “He didn’t seem to mind.”

“I can respect him there, at least. Tall women make this world go ‘round.”

“They do, yeah. But anyways, she was really smart. An engineer. She was great at coming up with ways to streamline processes, but she didn't use her skills for good."

"Oh?"

Shane shook his head. "Nope. She worked in hydraulic fracturing. Emma invented these drills that made it super cheap and easy to extract oil, even from deep down in the earth. Basically, we can credit her for making fracking a common practice."

"Oh, shit..."

"Her invention has caused tons of damage to the environment, public health... it's even triggered a few earthquakes. And I can't even begin to describe what it's done to Native American lands."

"That's why she's in Hell, isn't it?"

"Yup. People are responsible for the impacts of their actions, even if unintended. The dude who invented the atomic bomb isn't getting out for decades. But anyways, because of this, Emma and Lucifer had a lot in common. Nothing brings two together like unethical sourcing, right? So romantic," he cooed sarcastically.

It didn't feel right to laugh. "But you said she was assigned to him? Isn't that what brought them together?"

"Yeah. Yeah, it was. I've never told my dad this, but I think she only seduced him to get out of being tortured." Shane looked down at the carpet. "Fair enough, I guess."

Yikes. We don't have enough time to unpack all that right now.

"Anyways, when they found out she was pregnant, Emma moved into my dad's house/mansion/castle or whatever." Shane sighed. "From the pictures, it seemed like they were genuinely happy for a few months.”

“What happened?”

Shane grimaced. “I happened. After I was born, she left. She reincarnated.”

“Oh... that sucks, man.” Ryan wished he had something better to say.

Shane sat back. “She didn’t have to. My dad made sure Emma knew that. She could have stayed...” Shane’s eyes misted over. “She could’ve stayed, Ryan, but she chose to leave us. Leave me.”

“That's not right. I’m so sorry...” Ryan reached out for Shane, but he retreated into a protective position, holding his knees in tightly. Ryan dropped his arm.

“She wanted to bring me with her, but that’s not how it works. Reincarnation is random, so we’d end up as strangers in different continents, probably. And she’d have to murder her own baby to do it...”

“Jesus Christ, man.”

“No, no,” Shane clarified. “Demons aren’t that bad. They wouldn’t allow that.”

“That’s comforting, at least. So you’re saying she was left with two options, reincarnate and forget everything that happened before, or stay with you and Lucifer.”

“Yup. She chose to be a human.” Shane laughed bitterly. “Must be pretty damn awesome, if it was worth giving her family up. That’s one of the only ways I could make myself scare. I hate hurting people. Scaring sucks. But I had to do it, so I learned to channel my anger because I was so fucking jealous of my assignments. I took it out on them.”

“Oh.”

“It’s alright, you can say it," Shane muttered. "I was a monster.”

"Hey!" Ryan said sternly. "I'd never say that, because it's not true. Yeah, you hurt other people when you were hurting, but it doesn't get more human than that. We've all done it. Shane, you were doing the best you can."

"I guess..."

"You were. Think about what you just told me: you had a moral compass this whole time, way before you met me. You were good, no matter how much the demons tried to condition it out of you."

Shane shook his head and smiled. "You're too easy on me."

"I'm not, actually. I'm just the first one who hasn't been unreasonably harsh on you."

"I appreciate it, man, but don't feel bad for me. I've gotten so many breaks over the years. My bosses would probably let me get away with murder, but that's Light Bulb's job." Shane shrugged.

"You're saying you had a good childhood?"

Shane made a face. "Not exactly. I wasn’t human enough to reincarnate, but I wasn’t demon enough to be a demon. For the first half of my life, I couldn’t do demon shit. I couldn't shapeshift, turn my eyes black, any of that. Not until puberty..."

"That'll get ya," Ryan interjected. "Adolescence makes a demon out of all of us.”

Shane’s laughter didn't reach his eyes. "Needless to say, I didn’t really fit in.”

“Damn. Children aren’t nice, either...”

“That’s what I’ve heard.” Shane shrugged. “But no one ever bothered me. Perks of being the devil’s son. Of course, that also meant they were kind of afraid of me, so...”

Ryan took a breath. “Okay, I hope you know I mean this as a compliment: I can’t imagine someone being scared of you, once they get to know you. You’re a fucking sweetheart, Shane.”

“Thanks, Ry... but yeah, most of the time, I was pissed because every day I passed between the demon world and the human world, knowing I didn’t really belong in either of them, or anywhere really...”

Ryan was about to whip out his guitar and belt Taylor Swift’s “You Belong With Me”, but Shane kept explaining:

“I’m not ready to talk about my dad, but I wanted to tell you all this so you could understand why I’m weird sometimes.”

“Thanks, Shane. I understand now. I really appreciate it. But you never said why you can’t have kids...”

“Oh, right. Sorry. Well obviously, I never learned what a family was and I have a terrible role model for a father. I don’t want to make anyone grow up like me. Daddy issues, am I right?” Shane tried to smile.

“What? Shane no, come on, you’re nothing like your dad. And this family stuff, you can learn all of it. You’ve learned so much already. It’s not too late, dude.”

Shane smiled softly. “Actually, I know that now. These little guys taught me.” He gestured down at the spiders. “It’s so important to me to take good care of them because I have to prove to myself that I won’t mess up the real thing.”

“Dude, look at me.” Ryan shuffled over and placed his hands on Shane’s shoulders. “I want you to listen carefully, okay? You, Shane Alexander Madej, are going to be a fantastic father. The best. The kind that makes dad jokes and burns stuff on the grill and embarrasses his kids in the carpool. You got that?”

Shane laughed and nodded. Ryan could feel the pure happiness shimmering off his friend and vibrating up his arms. The two had one intense, prolonged moment of staring into each other’s eyes. Usually, when Ryan looked into Shane's eyes, he was captivated by their golden-amber color, but damn if the demon didn't have unfairly long lashes, too.

“Do you want kids, Ry?” Shane blurted. “Uh, not saying like, with me or anything, just in general-”

“Yeah, I do.” Ryan smiled. Little did Shane know he was answering both questions. “I really do.”

“Oh.” Shane grinned. “Well c'mon, I just spilled my guts.” He laid down on his side, propping his chin on his elbow. “It’s your turn to overshare, Bergara.”

Ryan laughed. “First of all, you didn’t overshare. That was exactly what I needed to hear, thank you. And yeah, I can explain why I want kids. Well, you know I love fairy tales and Disney and all that. I'm so excited to share all of it with them one day. It’s like getting to experience everything for the first time again, through their eyes.”

"My god, they'd love you so much."

“Do you want to get married, Shane?” Ryan blurted before going red. “Oh jeez, I’m not like proposing you to you, haha, I meant, like, in general-”

“Yes,” Shane answered with a grin. “Yes, I really do.”

DID SHANE MADEJ REALLY JUST WINK AT HIM AGAIN?!

Come on. Ryan’s terrified of rejection, but the flirting couldn’t be more obvious at this point. Shane has to like him back, right? And from what he’s just heard, he’d never feel comfortable making the first move...

The little gray spider on Shane’s palm started bouncing up and down. "Oh hey, I think Charlotte wants you. Can you hold your hand out?"

The things you do for love. Ryan tentatively held out his palm, and tried not to flinch when she landed on his index finger, pulling a thin, almost transparent string with her. "What is she...?"

"I think she's making a web! Hold still. Here, hold your fingers up like this."

The boys held their palms a few inches apart with their fingers outstretched, as if they were about to high-five. Charlotte bounced back and forth between them, weaving a complicated pattern around their fingers. Ryan watched, fascinated. Two minutes later, she stopped and pointedly rested on Shane's knee.

"Oh my gosh, it's beautiful," Ryan commented. The spider hopped up and down in response. He took a closer look. "Wait, the design... is that a heart?!"

Shane laughed. "Looks like it. We've got a little artist over here." With that, Charlotte crawled back up to her creation. The little spider started winding her string around their palms, bringing them closer and closer together.

"Oh." Shane blushed. "I think I know what she's doing. Charlotte wants us to hold hands."

Ryan smiled. "I'm cool with that."

The boys interlaced their fingers, laughing quietly. Charlotte subtly headed back to her tank. The spider web was glistening, and Shane's eyes were twinkling, and the whole room sparkled with tension as their joined hands fell onto Ryan's lap. Neither one spoke. Ryan focused stubbornly on their hands, since any sudden movement could ruin the moment, but when he glanced up, Shane was gazing right at him. And he didn't look away. The boys smiled shyly at each other, as if they were both in on a secret.

Ryan Bergara couldn't fucking stand it anymore. He closed his eyes and leaned forward...

“Ryan.” That voice was firm. He opened his eyes. Shane sat back, but didn't let go of his hands. “Ryan... this was a great conversation. I’ve never talked like this, and I’ve never had someone listen like this. I appreciate you so much, you, uh, mean a lot to me, man.”

Ryan braced himself for the “but.”

“But I hope you can understand... I can’t be pushed any further right now. It’s not even that I don’t want to; I can’t." Shane was starting to sound panicky. “My brain won’t let me; I’d probably start dissociating again-”

“Whoa, whoa, dude, it’s okay! I’d never want that.”

“Thanks, Ry. And I’m so sorry, but this-”He looked down at their joined hands before gently pulling away. “It’s gonna take a while, if I can ever even get there. I swear I’m trying.” Shane took a breath. “You are so amazing, Ryan. And you are going to make someone so happy. I love being your friend, I do.”

“Me too.”

“Thanks. I’m trying to say, um, you don’t have to wait for me to get my shit together-”

“I know,” Ryan said simply. “I think I will anyway.”

“... Really?”

“Yup. And ‘waiting’ isn’t even the right word; you make it sound like time is being wasted. I’m never wasting my time when I spend it with you.”

“Ryan...” Shane’s voice sounded strained. “I mean this in the kindest, most sensitive way possible... Can I be excused?”

“Oh, uh, sure man.”

“Thank god.” Shane almost bolted out of the room. “SORRY, JUST NEEDED SOME WATER!” he shouted from the kitchen. “HEY, I’M GONNA MAKE SOME POPCORN, YOU WANT ANY?”

Before Ryan could even respond, Shane answered his own question.

“OKAY, I’LL MAKE SOME. ALONE. IN HERE. AND YOU CAN STAY THERE! LIKE, IN YOUR ROOM, NOT WITH ME!”

That was reassuring. Before this, Ryan was getting worried that this whole “idiot” thing was an act.


The next night, they were sitting on the couch, watching some ridiculous movie about killer clowns from outer space. (Don’t ask.) Ryan was comfortably sprawled out on the couch, leaning against Shane, who was somehow enthralled by the lame effects. Ryan almost nodded off on his demon’s shoulder, before remembering he had a very important proposal for him:

“Hey, Shane? If you really want to learn what a family is like, you should meet mine. How would you feel about Christmas with the Bergaras?”

Chapter Text

"But I don't know how to Christmas..." Shane said hesitantly, because he's the most adorable demon ever.

Ryan smiled. "We can teach you."

"Seriously, I don't even know the basics. We don't celebrate that down there."

Ryan frowned. "Why not? Do demons, like, hate Jesus or something?"

"What?! No!" Shane said indignantly. "He was a chill dude. His whole message was ‘be nice to each other.’ I wish you humans actually listened. And once again, demons and angels are on the same side."

"Okay, okay..." Ryan raised his hands defensively. "Sorry, didn't mean to offend you. What's the problem then?"

Shane grimaced. "It marks the end."

"What, Jesus dying? But he came back! That's the whole miracle!"

"Not the end of him, the end of God."

"What are you talking about?"

Shane crossed his arms. "Jesus was kind enough to die for all your sins and shit, but God isn't so forgiving. You humans tortured his only son to death. It's kinda hard to get over."

Ryan raised an eyebrow. "Is it really fair to blame all of us for that? We weren't even alive back then! And the Bible said-"

"It's more about what it doesn't say. Or where it ends. Haven't you noticed that after Jesus, miracles stopped happening? Angels stopped delivering holy messages, there were no more real prophets... You never thought it was weird that God decided to lay low for the rest of time?"

Ryan glared. "There's no need to be condescending, dude."

Shane dropped the attitude. "You're right; I'm sorry. This is a sensitive subject for me. Well, for all demons, but especially me." He sighed. "We know, fine, we believe that after humans murdered his son, God was done. After Jesus returned to heaven with him, he peaced out. Permanently. No one knows where he went."

"He's... never coming back?" Ryan asked in a small voice. Not a great thing to hear.

Shane shrugged. "I doubt it, at this point. According to my dad, he's been gone for a few thousand years, so..."

"Did Lucifer really know him?"

"Yup. He barely ever talks about it, since he's still bitter about the whole being banished to Hell forever thing, but God was the closest thing to a father that he had."

"And he abandoned him," Ryan finished.

"Yup. Guess my dad learned from the best," Shane said sullenly.

"Fuck him," Ryan growled. "That's no excuse for the devil to act like... the devil."

"It is what it is, I guess," Shane remarked, as if he didn't care one way or another. He arranged himself more comfortably on the couch. "Look, I know I sound like the biggest Grinch of all time, and maybe I am, but Christmas seems overrated. And I can't be the only one who thinks that. With all the pressure to have the ~perfect~ holiday and forced time with relatives, I bet it brings up bad memories for lots of people."

Ryan sat back and pulled a pillow onto his lap. "You have a point,” he admitted glumly. “I never thought about it like that."

His friend's face softened as he took in Ryan's expression. "I'm sorry, man. I don't mean to ruin this for you. You deserve an awesome Christmas. I'm talking Hallmark level." He smirked. "We'll break out the fake snow and everything."

Ryan cracked a smile. "That's not what makes a Christmas, dude."

Shane tilted his head. "Oh? What about questionable alcoholic egg beverages?"

Ryan chuckled. "Nope."

"That thing when your dad almost kills himself putting lights up?"

"Nope."

"Bringing a pine tree into your home for no apparent reason?"

"No!" Ryan laughed. "Christmas is more than that. More than all those things put together. It's hard to explain... the Bergaras can show you, if you let us."

Shane still looked apprehensive. He drummed his fingers on the side of the couch. "I dunno... You can't exactly introduce me as your demon."

At that statement, Ryan grinned ear-to-ear. "You absolutely are my demon, but I see what you mean. We'll just say you're my friend. My human friend. We'll tell them you work in LA, and that's how we met. Oh!" He sat up straighter. "What if we tell them you're a comedian? That would be fun!"

"Uh, I'd have to be funny to do that," Shane pointed out. "Like, intentionally. People mostly laugh because I'm a dumb ass."

Ryan snorted. "Hey, if they're laughing, they're laughing, right? And you are funny. Even intentionally, sometimes." He winked as best he could.

Shane was running out of excuses. "You'll be in Maine... The time difference..."

"Well, Maine is three hours ahead of California. Since our time zones are completely opposite right now, we'd actually be three hours closer. Oh, shit." Ryan frowned. "I forgot about the flight. You'd need a passport, or some other kind of identification. We could drive, but it'd take days..."

Shane looked at him like he was ridiculous. "We don't need to do that. I work with thousands of portals to literally everywhere. This is at your parents' place, right? I’ll have Jen look up their names and then I’ll bust out of their closet when they're not there. Boom."

Ryan was impressed. "Wow, that's convenient. My childhood bedroom is still there, though. My parents haven't touched it; it's basically a baby Bergara shrine. Wouldn't it be easier to use my closet?"

Shane shook his head. "That's not how it works. Each human is assigned to one door, and one door only. It follows you with permanent address changes. It's hard to explain, but the doors are legitimately attached to your soul. There's no way to cheat, in that regard." It's a lot to keep track of. Shane's grateful it’s not his responsibility.

"Oh, okay. That's fine; it's not a big deal."

Suddenly, Shane grinned slyly.

"Uh, why are you smirking like a demon?"

"Demon stereotype," the demon corrected. "And I just thought of something. Wanna save on airfare? Come through the portals with me. I can get you across the country in, like, 30 seconds..." He reached for a glass on the side table.

Ryan laughed. "Wow, okay! That'll save me so much money, thanks! Damn, talk about friends with benefits."

Shane choked on his water. Ryan had to pat his back for several minutes.


On the way home, something occurred to Shane. He paused mid-step. Was he seriously going to be discovering the true meaning of Christmas next chapter?

Could it get any more cliché, Erin?!

Chapter Text

Brent was exhausted. Inferno has had him working overtime, to the point where he’s been neglecting his nighttime beard routine. With his scraggly, misshapen facial hair, the demon looked as horrible as he felt.

Brent quit scaring weeks ago, but that meant he had to take on other responsibilities. The goddamn quarterly reports were due soon, and it was now his job to make sure everyone did their jobs. Thankfully, almost everyone had turned their portion in, except for...

Brent stopped outside Shane's cubicle. The unreasonably tall demon was hunched over his unreasonably small computer, swearing under his breath.

"Uh, what are you doing?"

Shane didn't turn, leaving Brent to stare at the back of his ginormous brown, fluffy head. "None of your business, Sun Block."

Brent put his hands on his hips. "It absolutely is my business if you're not filling out your paperwork. You know they're gonna blame me!"

Shane spun around in his chair and crossed his arms. "Sure. Yeah. I'm doing my paperwork."

"Bullshit."

"Hey! Don't look-" Shane had covered his screen protectively, but it was too late.

"Why the fuck are you looking at a pair of sneakers? Doesn't your Daddy already buy you everything you need?"

Shane scowled. "Because they're not for me, Lip Balm! Now go away."

Brent took a closer look. Shane's mouse was hovering over the "checkout now" button for a pair of white leather sneakers with black laces and gold accents. "Air Jordans? Aren't those insanely expensive?”

"So? Like you said, I have ✨Daddy's money✨."

And Shane calls him insufferable. “How the hell did you just use the sparkle emoji out loud? And I doubt that's what Ryan really wants for Christmas."

"How did you know they were for...?" Shane sighed. "Fine. Yeah, they're for Ryan. I think I know him a little better than you do, Facebook. He's a certified sneakerhead and these were the best ones I could find; he'll love them."

Brent leaned against the desk, because his co-worker deserved to be as irritated as he felt right now. Shane glowered. "Just because you're spending a lot of money, doesn't make it a good gift. How about something, I don't know, thoughtful?"

Shane pinched the bridge of his nose and exhaled deeply. "I'm sorry, I don't remember asking for your opinion, Blitzen."

Brent's blood boiled. "It's Brent! And fine; I don't care. Get Ryan that way overpriced gift that'll make him super uncomfortable. Just finish your damn paperwork by Friday."

Shane turned around and waved his hand dismissively. "Yeah, yeah. You can go now, Michael Bublé Christmas Album. Bye."

Ugh!!! Brent stormed off. Seriously, why do so many of you like Shane? He's an ass.


Ryan was surprised when Shane shoved a poorly wrapped box at him the next night.

"Uh, is this for me?"

"Of course it is!" Shane responded brightly. "Just for you!"

"Oh, um, this is so nice, but Shane, Christmas isn't for another-"

"I know, I know. I got too excited. Can you open it, please?" With such a hopeful expression in front of him, Ryan had no choice.

"Okay..." The gold wrapping paper crinkled as it fell to the floor. Is this a shoe box? Ryan lifted the lid and his jaw dropped. "Holy shit! Wait, I think I've seen these before, in a magazine, aren't they-?"

"Yup," Shane said proudly, rocking on his heels with his hands tucked behind his back. “They're the new Air Jordans, designed by Michael Jordan’s son. Limited addition!"

Ryan was lost for words. "Um, uh, how did you know my shoe size?"

"Oh, I stole your slippers." Shane frowned, as if something just occurred to him. "Er, sorry, I should've brought those back. I forgot." He smiled sheepishly.

Oh my gosh, why did he find this idiot so charming? Ryan carefully placed the box on the bed and pulled Shane into a big hug. "You’re sweet, big guy. Even if you're a thief."

"So you like them?"

"I love them!" Ryan said honestly. "But, Shane, aren't these like, $30,000?"

"Yeah, I think so," Shane replied casually. He noticed Ryan's flabbergasted expression. "What, is that a lot?"

"Are you... kidding?"

Shane's face fell. "You don't like them?"

"No, no!" Ryan rushed out. "They're amazing. Like, seriously, they should be in a museum." Aw jeez, how should I phrase this? "I just feel bad that you spent all this money. I'd never want you to go broke for me, so I can't accept this. I hope you understand. Are these... returnable?" he asked, as gently as he could.

"Oh, um, yeah, I'm sure they are. I'll take them back, and I swear, I'll return your slippers..."

"Don't worry about it. I mean, please give them back at some point, but don't stress about it. I really appreciate the effort."

Shane nodded, avoiding eye contact. Ryan hated to see him so disappointed, but it wasn’t right to accept such an extravagant gift. "Where on earth did you get the money, dude?"

"My dad," Satan's son responded, as if it was obvious.

"So, what? He gives you some kind of massive allowance?"

"Kinda. More like I have access to his main bank account, and I can take out whatever I want, whenever I want. Probably because he feels guilty about his shitty parenting." Shane pulled a silver card from his back pocket and held it up. "I like to think of it as the Master of Neglect Card, haha..."

Ryan couldn't imagine how much money the actual devil had. "Holy shit, you're actually filthy rich?"

"Well, yeah," Shane retorted, crossing his arms defensively. "It's not a big deal."

"You never thought this was worth mentioning?!"

"It's not, like... listen, I don't care about money."

"Evidently." Ryan glanced down at the demon's outfit. He was wearing a forest green button down, tucked into a pair of khakis with a sleek, black belt. Sure, he looked fine as hell, but the pants were a bit too short, the belt had a few tears, and that shirt was definitely a Ralph Lauren knock-off.

Shane raised an eyebrow. "Rude. Look, demons have treated me differently in the past when they found out about this. They pretend they can tolerate me and it's really annoying. I've gotten in the habit of not bringing up finances.”

Ryan looked back at forth between the silver credit card and golden shoes. "How...? Do you guys use American dollars down there?"

"No, no." Shane waved his hand. "We have a different system. Like, down in Hell, the Jordans would probably cost around, I don't know, 200,000 souls?"

Ryan went pale. "You... bought me sneakers... using human souls?"

"No, not human-"

"GIVE THEM BACK!” Ryan demanded. “RIGHT NOW! YOU DON'T DAMN PEOPLE TO HELL FOR A DAMN CHRISTMAS PRESENT!"

"GOD DAMN IT, RYAN!” Shane yelled back. “IT'S AN EXPRESSION!"

"Oh."

"Yeah, that's probably where friggin' confusion comes from. You humans take everything too literally." Shane rolled his eyes.

"... Sorry."

“Here.” Shane reached into his other pocket and tossed a tiny glass ball at Ryan. He caught it.

“Uh, is this a marble?” How is it so warm?

“Is it?” Shane asked mysteriously.

Ryan held it up to his eye, inspecting its clear surface. Like a crystal ball, its insides appeared different from different angles. He noticed tiny flames flickering inside the marble. “There’s... a fire in there?”

“A red fire,” Shane emphasized. “The souls come in different colors, depending on monetary value.”

“Huh?”

“Okay, I can explain. Let’s sit down.” The boys sat across from each other on the bed. “So you know Hell is a firey place, right?”

Ryan nodded.

“Ever wonder where the fire comes from? It’s a bi-product of the process where we convert fear into energy. We have to heat up the oil and compress it to make electricity, and that creates fire as well.”

“Okay?”

Shane smirked at Ryan’s dumbfounded expression. “Stay with me here, human. You’ll get it. Alright, so depending on the amount of fear we burn and its quality, the fire burns at higher temperatures, which changes the color. What do you people use to measure heat again?”

“Fahrenheit.” Ryan paused. “Well, the rest of the world uses Celsius, but you know how Americans are, they wanna be special...”

Shane laughed. “Of course they do. We measure degrees of heat in souls. Again, not real souls, that’s just the name we use. Red fire is about 250 souls, which is probably your equivalent of a dollar. Orange fire is 750 souls, yellow is 1000, and so on...”

“And you can capture it in glass?”

“Yup. But don’t ask me how. Not my department. You can keep that, by the way.”

“Oh, okay, thanks.” Not that Ryan could spend it, but it’d make a good hand warmer for cold weather. “I still don’t understand how you bought a human product.”

“All my dad’s fault. We didn’t used to interact with the human economy before he became a total cheapskate. He’s started to outsource our core functions. All the raw materials come from Earth now, so he opened some human bank accounts.”

“Uh, do they know they’re working with the actual devil?”

“Of course not. They think we’re an energy supply company, which isn’t even a lie. Besides, what’s the difference between the actual devil and, I don’t know, the CEO of Amazon?”

“Fair point.”


Brent smirked as he noticed Shane retreat grumpily into his cubicle with a shoebox under his arm. He stood on his tip toes so he could see over the divider:

“He didn’t like it, huh?”

Shane turned around and gave him a dirty look. “You sound pretty smug for someone whose had yet another code cracked on national news.”

God damn it! “You’re not as funny as you think you are, jackass! You really think anyone would believe I write secret codes about taunting the police and making my murder victims my slaves in the afterlife? Does that sound like me at all?”

“How’d you know all those specific details?” Shane rebutted. “Check and mate.”

“Because I read about it in the fucking... Forget it! I’m just saying, I’d be happy to help you find Ryan a gift if you'd finish your damn paperwork.”

“I don’t need your help, Jingle Bells!”


Ryan looked up at Shane, down at the flimsy lace in his hands, and back up at Shane. He’d just opened a box of sheer, red stockings, a garter belt disturbingly designed after Santa’s belt with a big gold buckle, and a glittery red babydoll top with white, fuzzy trim.

It was... certainly suggestive.

Shane’s face fell. “Is it the wrong size?”

“Uh, um...” Ryan was turning as scarlet as his new lingerie set. “There’s a thong, and, uh, a bra and I, um, don’t have boobs?”

“Oh.” Shane whacked his forehead. “You’re right, shit.” The demon hastily grabbed the clothing out of Ryan’s hands and stuffed it back into the box. “I’m sorry, the stupid advertisement said this was the best gift I could get for that special someone, and I thought ‘hey, Ryan’s special!’, so I figured-”

Oh! Ryan burst into laughter. “This is a joke, right? A gag gift?”

Shane plastered a smile on his face. “Uh yeah, haha, whatever you just said. It was that. Um, I’m gonna go return it now.”

“Shane-”

“Bye!” Slam!

Ryan pouted. He hadn’t even gotten to ask where his slippers were.


Brent passed by Shane as he angrily shoved a box into the trash can.

“Let me guess, Ryan didn’t like your second gift either?”

Shane glared. “Back off, Little Drummer Boy. I still don’t need your help.” He walked away with his nose in the air.


Ryan’s mouth was dry. He swallowed and tried to ignore the pit in his stomach. He couldn’t believe the words he was reading. Shane had just handed him a deed. “Please tell me this is another joke. Please tell me you didn’t go out and buy me a fucking house.”

The deed was attached to a listing for an extravagant sunshine-yellow mansion right off Hollywood Boulevard, complete with two pools and a guest house. Ryan couldn’t even begin to imagine how much this would cost.

Shane snatched the paper back, making Ryan jump. “Yeah, it’s a joke,” he said coolly. “... I’m practicing being a comedian, y’know, for when we meet your family. Because what human would want a brand new, fully furnished home for Christmas? Hah, ridiculous. Bye.”

Slam!

Ryan huffed. Was Shane ever going to give his goddamn slippers back?


“YO! IT’S BEGINNING TO LOOK A LOT LIKE CHRISTMAS! WHERE ARE YOU?”

Brent walked out of his cubicle. “At my desk? Literally where else would I be-?”

“Shut up and tell me what to do!” Shane demanded frantically.

“Uh, I can’t do both of those at the same time-”

“Fine!” Shane threw his hands up in the air. “I’ll admit it: Ryan hates all my presents. Now can you help me? Please?”

“What about-”

“Here’s the fucking paperwork.” Shane shoved a huge stack of papers into his arms. Brent gave him a suspicious look and started flipping through it... the forms seemed to be filled out correctly. “Happy now, Santa Buddy?”

“It’s Santa Baby-”

Qezza popped out of her cubicle. “Did you just call Shane baby?!”

“NO!” Shane and Brent yelled in unison.

“Jeez, okay. Just asking...” She backed off.

“Ugh.” Brent rubbed his temples. “Fine, I’ll help you. What did you get him last time?”

Shane wordlessly handed over a piece of paper. Brent’s jaw dropped as he looked it over. “Did you seriously...?”

“What? Was one house not enough?!” Shane asked desperately. His eyes were getting wild. “The mansion next door was for sale too, I could-”

“Stop buying him houses, you fucking moron!”

Chapter Text

"Shane... did you get me a Christmas present?" But The Very Next Day, You Gave It Away was hovering over Shane’s desk, as usual. Seriously, what does Shane have to do to get this demon to leave him alone?

Shane spun around in his chair. "Uh, no? I hate you, remember?"

"Then what's this?" Snow Boots held up a sparkly red box with a green ribbon. "Someone left it on my desk. There's no name."

Shane pressed his lips together. "Why are you assuming it's from me?"

"Because literally no one else celebrates Christmas down here."

Damn it. Shane sulked.

Silver Bells grinned. “So it was you!"

"It's a regift," Shane grumbled. "Ryan didn't like it."

Oh Little Town Of Bethlehem had already torn off the wrapping. His mouth fell open. "Ryan wanted a meditation rug?!" He carefully unfolded the gift and held it out.

The circular rug was crocheted into a delicate spiral pattern of pinks, yellows, and blues. Shane was inspired to make it over the weekend after Snow Blower explained hand-made gifts were better than lingerie or mansions. (Whatever.) He’d based the colors off the pansexuality flag, because he knew Baby It’s Cold Outside was proud of his identity, and he wanted to celebrate that. Shane was originally going to make Carol of the Bells a scarf, but then he remembered their meditation session at Jen’s and couldn’t resist.

Honestly, the rug was pretty damn good, if Shane did say so himself. His skills have improved since Bergara Bandera.

“Oh my gosh, this is beautiful! And the colors, they’re based on my flag!” Belsnickel looked at Shane in awe. “Did you make this?!"

"Fine. Yeah, I made it. I figured maybe if you aligned your chakras, you'd stop being a little bitch." Shane crossed his arms defensively. Bye Buddy, Hope You Find Your Dad wasn’t supposed to realize this was from him. It’s gonna ruin his bad boy rep!

Bûche de Noël snorted. “Aww, that might be the nicest thing you've ever said to me."

In a culmination of all the character development he's undergone so far, Shane stuck his tongue out.

"The detail... this must have taken so much time... you didn't have to do this for me."

"I know that,” Shane huffed. “Ryan told me Christmas is about giving to the less fortunate." Shane pointedly looked Elf Bowling up and down. His beard game had taken a hit in the past few weeks and his oversized infinity scarf was, frankly, ridiculous.

“Wow, you’re sooo funny,” Burnt Christmas Ham said sarcastically. “How about you save the insults until after you get a decent haircut?”

Shane couldn’t hold in the laughter as he raked through his floppy hair. He liked his irritating co-worker a bit more when he had a backbone. “You got me there, Gingerbrent.”

Backbone’s brows furrowed. "Christmas isn't for another couple days... why are you giving this to me now?"

"Because I'm spending next week with the Bergaras. I'm taking a long weekend using my PTO hours and then I have a feeling I'll catch some dangerous virus in Maine, so you’ll have to survive without me for a couple days..." Shane winked.

“Seriously?” Deck The Halls With Boughs of Holly put his hands on his hips. “You know why I can’t fucking stand you sometimes? Because they haven’t let any of us have a day off for weeks and that’s the lamest excuse ever, but you’ll probably get away with it anyways because of your Daddy.”

True. "What, are you gonna rat me out?"

Bad Santa 2 sighed. "No, of course not. I hope you all have a nice time," he said sincerely. “You'll win the whole Bergara family over with your charming personality..." Buttcracker snickered.

“Ugh. Let’s not talk about that.” Shane’s stomach was already churning with social anxiety at the thought.

Be Merry carefully tucked his new meditation rug back into the box. “I love this so much. I can’t wait to use it. I just feel bad I didn’t get you anything...”

“Don’t bother,” Shane gruffed. “Whatever you’d get, I wouldn’t like it. In fact, I’d throw your gift right into the trash. Because I hate you.”

Krampus chuckled and smiled warmly. “Shane, you’re my best friend.”

???

Seriously, what does Shane have to do to convince you all that he’s an asshole?! “What the fuck, Snow Ball? I literally could not be meaner-”

Shane was interrupted when The Nightmare Before Christmas pulled him into a tight hug.

Shane might have hugged him back. He might’ve even smiled a little over Four Calling Bird’s shoulder, but let’s keep that between you and him.

Chapter Text

“Can we go over it one more time, please?” Ryan’s demon was pacing around his room, absentmindedly twisting one of Ryan’s beanies in his hands.

“Sure. As many times as you want, bud.”

"Okay, thanks... Your mom's name is Linda, your dad is Steve the dentist-"

Ryan smiled. "Just call him Steve."

"Oh my gosh, wait..." Shane stopped pacing. "Are my teeth good enough? Sometimes I forget to floss twice a day, is Steve gonna know?" He pulled his mouth open and bared his teeth like an absolute fool.

Ryan cackled, clutching his belly. "You look like an idiot."

"I know that!" Shane snapped. "Just tell me if they’re good enough!"

"Okay, okay." Shane pulled his mouth open again, revealing a set of perfectly straight, white teeth. "They're totally fine, but...” Ryan frowned. “Why don’t you have fangs?"

Shane crossed his arms. "Because that's a vampire thing? Stop getting us confused."

Ryan laughed. "Just teasing."

“Now is not the time for jokes, human!” Shane chided. “What if they think I’m weird?!”

“Oh, they will,” Ryan said easily. “There’s no getting around that.”

“Oh no...” Shane began pacing again.

“But it’s fine! You’re weird in a special way, like... a quirky way!”

Shane put his hands on his hips. “Did you just call me a manic pixie dream girl?”

Ryan snorted. “More like manic pixie demon boy.”

Shane booed at his terrible joke.

"I deserved that," Ryan admitted. "Look, I'm trying to say they're not judgmental people. The Bergaras are super chill; they're so excited to meet you. They're thrilled that I'm bringing someone home for the first time in years." Ryan felt his face heat up. "Not that I'm bringing you home-"

Shane frowned. "Aren't you?"

"I am. That's just a human expression," Ryan clarified. "I'll explain it another time."

"Oh gosh, there's probably so many other human expressions I don't know..."

"That's okay! It's fine. Just don't use one if you don't know what it means," Ryan instructed, because he could totally see Shane doing that. "And if it's something they'd expect you to understand, we'll just say... you're Canadian!"

"I don't know anything about Canada!"

"Do you know anything about America?" Ryan challenged.

Shane sighed. "Fair enough. So what, we'll say I'm originally from Toronto? That's the only city I know. And then I moved to LA to pursue my failing comedy career?"

"You got it, big guy."

"Okay." Shane took a breath. "Okay. I think I'm ready; I'm just gonna head to my desk and grab something first-" He headed for the door.

"Can't I come with you?"

Shane turned around slowly. "Um..."

"We're going through the portals anyway, right? And I'd love to see your cool co-workers again." Shane might claim Brent Bennett is the worst creation since the atomic bomb, but Ryan misses the demon. He has a comforting presence and he always smells like vanilla.

"I don't think that's a good idea. Sure, I can take you through the portals quickly, but Hell is... not a good place for humans to be right now." Shane looked away, scratching his head.

Ryan was shocked; this may be the first time Shane's ever told him no. His friend was being weirdly evasive, but he must have an important reason. Ryan resolved to let it go. "Okay, that's fine. I'll wait here."

“Cool.” Shane grinned. “Be right back, human!”


Shane emerged 5 minutes later with a duffel bag and a giant gift bag.

“Whoa, whatcha got there, big guy?” Ryan asked cautiously. At this point, he’s been conditioned to dread presents from this one.

Shane noticed his expression. “Don’t worry, this was all Sleigh Bell’s idea, so it’s totally normal and boring.”

Whew.

Shane pulled out an elaborate bouquet of vibrant red poinsettias and handed them to Ryan, missing his astonished expression. “Those are for Linda.”

“Wow, these are-”

Shane handed him an enormous golden wine bottle. “Steve likes dessert wine, right?”

“Yeah, I can’t believe you remembered!” Ryan set the expensive gifts on his bed before he dropped them all.

“And these are for Jake.” Shane showed him an ornate wooden box with an assortment of mini hot sauce bottles inside. Shane eyed them warily. “I know your brother loves spicy stuff, but tell him to be careful because that stuff’s all made in Hell, and we know hot...”

Ryan laughed. “You might kill him, but he’ll die happy. Oh my gosh, you’ll have to thank Brent for me, these are perfect!”

“Sure, sure. I’ll let the Birds And The Bees know...”

Ryan glanced at his watch. “Alright, my family just left for the mall, so this would be the perfect time for us to arrive from the ‘airport’. You ready?”

“Almost!” Much to Ryan’s surprise, the demon ripped his gray button-down off, revealing his lean, pale torso. Even more to Ryan’s surprise, Shane was... not totally a string bean? He was lanky, sure, but his sizable biceps flexed teasingly as he bent down to search his duffel bag. The ivory muscles in his back shifted under the fluorescent lights of the room as Shane crouched down and grabbed something. He stood up again, mesmerizing Ryan with the way his broad, rounded shoulders gave way to his narrow waist. His hips were proportional to the rest of his torso, poking through his skin was that athletic “V” indent that comes with the slightest bit of abs, sculpting a trail of blonde hair that conveniently drew Ryan’s gaze down to...

“Like what you see?” Shane winked as he pulled a red sweater over his head.

“Yes,” Ryan blurted.

Shane made some sort of muffled shocked noise under the sweater, causing his arm to go through the neck hole and his giant head to get trapped in the left sleeve. “A little help here?!”

Ryan chuckled as he rushed to Shane’s rescue and freed him from his cashmere prison. He rolled down the sweater to reveal a classic white wintry pattern of Christmas trees and snowflakes, but in the middle...


ADD YOUR OWN TEXT RIGHT HERE


Ryan cackled. "Where did you get this?!"

"Amazon!" Shane exclaimed, smoothing out his sweater proudly. "You like it? It's so Christmas, right?"

"Uh, weren't you supposed to customize it?"

Shane frowned. "Well, I don't know any Christmas phrases, so I just went with the default..."

"That's..." Ryan paused. Too late to fix it now. "That's great! Nice job, dude."

Shane grinned. "Where's yours?"

"Mine?" Ryan was wearing a blue hoodie he found in the back of his closet. "Oh, I don't have any Christmas sweaters with me here, they're all back home..."

"Oh. Am I gonna look dumb?"

"No, not not at all," Ryan lied. "Don't worry about it."

"Alright. You ready?" Shane grinned and held out his hand, which was lowkey Ryan's favorite part about interdimensional travel.

Ryan smiled and took it. "Ready."

Shane pulled him through his closet into the scare floor, and Ryan braced himself for the familiar vertigo. Maybe this will be the time he manages not to wipe out upon entering the underworld.

"Now, it's gonna feel a little different than last time..." Shane warned.

Ryan wiped out.

"W-Whoa!" Wind rushed in Ryan's ears. He felt like he was being sucked downwards into a vortex, or what he imagined quicksand to feel like as a child. Deeper and deeper and deeper, while the surface disappeared from sight. His limbs flailed for purchase, but his planet was far behind them. "Shane, help!"

Ryan squeezed his eyes shut. If he was falling, he didn't want to see the bottom.

It took him a few moments to realize Shane was speaking to him, in a slow, calming tone. In fact, he'd never let go of Ryan. Shane was standing perfectly still with a tight grip around Ryan's waist and shoulders as Ryan braced himself for the fall that wouldn't come.

"Shhhh, human, it's okay. I've got you. This is just an illusion; you're safe."

Ryan squeezed his eyes shut tighter and gripped onto Shane's soft sweater. Shane was the only thing not sinking around him right now. If he focused on him, he'd stop sinking, too.

"It's okay, Ry. I know it feels weird. Gravity is stronger around here lately, ever since the budget cuts. With the layoffs, everything's gotten heavy..."

Ryan was not in the mindset to even begin to understand what Shane was talking about.

"Ryan..." Shane's steadying voice was right outside his ear. "It's okay; I promise. Can you open your eyes for me?"

Ryan tentatively opened his eyes, still clinging onto his emotional support demon for dear life. Everything looked... the same. Doors lined either side of the wide floor, with monsters of various shapes and sizes darting in and out amidst screams, sobs, and shrieks of terror. Fluorescent lighting flickered ominously overhead, making him feel distinctly sick.

"Hey, look at me..." Shane directed gently.

Ryan glanced up, maintaining his death grip around his friend's middle. Shane chuckled softly and cradled Ryan's face with his hands, brushing away a tear that must've slipped out during his freak out with his thumb.

"I know. I hate this fucking place, too. You could even call it Hell."

Ryan wheezed in spite of himself, gasping breathlessly.

"C'mon. Let's go meet the 'rents."

"I don't think I can move."

Shane frowned and looked off to the side for a moment, still brushing Ryan's cheek absentmindedly. "Alright. Here's what we're going to do." He turned around and crouched down. "Get on my back, human. We're gonna piggyback outta this place."

"Really?"

Shane turned his head halfway around. "Come on, dude. How many times do I have to say I'm the prince of Hell and I do whatever I want for it to register?"

"Okay..."

"All aboard Shane Madej airlines!" Shane said as Ryan awkwardly climbed onto his back. "We hope you enjoy your flight with us today!"

"Oh my god, you’re such a dork."

"BRRRRR!" Shane imitated a plane engine as he made his way to their destination, making more loops that was strictly necessary. Ryan couldn’t help but be entertained.

"What happened to not drawing attention to ourselves, you fucking idiot?!" Ryan’s scolding wasn’t too effective when he was laughing uncontrollably. The lights began to flicker ominously overhead; he was glad to be getting out of here.

Shane opened the door.


When Shane entered Mr. and Mrs. Bergara's room, he didn't have much of a first impression. He could've sworn he'd seen this type of master bedroom hundreds of times in his career: dark gray walls, a king-sized bed with white sheets, a cream colored ceiling... It was hard to get a read on what type of people lived here. At the very least, he could tell they kept things less messy than their son.

Ryan shifted on his feet from where Shane had set him down beside him. "Uh, I know we needed to use their closet to get here, but we shouldn't really stand around here. It's kinda invading their privacy..."

Oh shit, how many humans' privacy have I invaded by busting into their rooms without warning? Shane mentally apologized to his former assignments as Ryan led him into the hallway.

"That's my brother's room back there, and here's the bathroom." Ryan gestured at a bathroom with a similar dark gray and white color scheme. "There's another one downstairs for future reference. And here's my room."

Ryan stopped outside a brown, wooden door at the end of the hall. "Fair warning, it hasn't changed much since I moved out after high school. Don't make fun of me, okay?"

Ryan opened the door, and Shane burst into laughter.

"A RACE CAR BED?!"

"I said don't make fun of me!"

"I'm not," Shane lied between heaving breaths. "I'm just offended because if you're going to have a race car bed, it should be Lightning McQueen."

Ryan crossed his arms. "You're the one who likes that stupid movie, not me."

"Fair enough." Shane's laughter subsided for a brief second until he noticed a framed picture on the wall. "IS THAT BABY BERGARA?!"

"Who else would it be, dumb ass?!"

"You're so cute!" Shane squealed, taking a closer look. Baby Bergara had a tiny red jumpsuit, cheeks too chubby to be real, and an vacant, open-mouthed stare. Shane’s heart couldn't handle this.

Ryan flushed while Shane kept inspecting the room.

"The Backstreet Boys?!" Shane gestured at a gigantic poster next to the bed. "Don't tell me your celebrity crush was Nick Carter. So unoriginal."

"I didn't have a crush on any of them!" Ryan said hotly. "I liked them for their music!"

Shane clutched his belly as he wheezed. "That's even worse!"

"If you must know, my celebrity crush was Nick Jonas."

Shane smiled. "I can understand that. Those curls," he said dreamily, twirling a lock of his floppy hair.

"I fucking hate you."

Shane made a kissy face at Ryan, because he is the greatest flirt on this planet.

Just then, the front door opened downstairs. Shane’s stomach dropped. You’ve read enough about his butchered social interactions to know why.

On the other hand, Ryan’s eyes lit up. “They’re here! C‘mon, let’s go downstairs!”

Shane reluctantly followed Ryan down the staircase. The Bergaras must have been at the mall for a while, because they’d left a pile of shopping bags by the doorway. They were currently in the driveway grabbing more bags from the trunk.

Linda, Steve, and Jake walked in.

Linda was a lovely-looking woman in her mid forties, with Ryan’s eyes and dark wavy hair. Steve was a little older, with smile lines around his face and a graying mustache. Jake was a little shorter and skinnier than Ryan, but otherwise almost identical.

And they were all dressed immaculately.

Oh god. Shane had never felt more stupid, standing there in his stupid sweater. The foyer was quiet as the Bergaras processed the sudden reunion and took in Shane’s ridiculous outfit.

Linda, Steve, and Jake looked at each other for a moment. “Um, boys, could you excuse us for a moment?” Linda said politely.

Ryan and Shane nodded. The three walked upstairs.

“They hate me. They fucking hate me,” Shane whispered frantically, as soon as the other Bergaras were out of sight.

“No, no way! Of course they don’t!” But Ryan looked just as confused and worried.

Shane began pacing again at the bottom of the stairs. Amazing that he thought he lived in Hell all these years when he was actually in Hell right now.

“Thanks for waiting, guys!” Jake bounded down the stairs, followed by his parents. He was wearing a ridiculous elf sweater with a matching hat. Steve had on a “Santa’s Favorite” sweater and a reindeer antler headband. Linda wore a white, home-made sweater with a snowman made out of cotton balls and a necklace of blinking Christmas lights.

“We didn’t want you to feel out of place,” Steve explained kindly. “What were we thinking, not wearing Christmas sweaters during Christmas?!”

“Ryan, put this on,” Linda instructed, tossing him a pink fluffy sweater with a fuzzy llama and “fa-la-la-llama” written over the top. Ryan laughed and pulled it over his head.

“Now bring it in, guys!” Jake said brightly, motioning for everyone to join him in a hug.

And to be honest? Shane almost cried.

Chapter Text

After an unsettlingly wholesome group hug, Jake stepped back and burst out laughing when he noticed Shane's sweater.

"Add your own text right here?! HAH! Ryan told me you're a comedian!"

"Oh, haha, yeah..." Shane smiled weakly, stuffing his hands in his pockets.

Jake grinned. "Seriously, that's an amazing sweater. You're putting my elf outfit to shame."

"Um, I brought some more, if you wanna see..." Shane said shyly.

Jake's eyes lit up. "Sure! Ryan, I'm stealing your boyfriend." He grabbed Shane's arm and started enthusiastically pulling him up the stairs, to the demon's bewilderment. He looked back at Ryan with pleading eyes. Help me, human!

Ryan was too busy blushing furiously. "I told you, he's not my boyfriend! But yeah that's fine, have fun you two."

"Jake, you didn't even let us talk to Shane for one minute!" Steve complained.

"Fine, but you only get 10 minutes with him," Linda said firmly to Jake. "Dinner's almost ready; then you'll have to share."

Oh god, are they going to eat me?


"Well, they're all in my bag, but it's gonna take a while to dig them out..." Shane said apologetically, standing over his oversized duffle bag.

Jake shrugged. "No worries. I'll play this in the meantime." He turned around and picked a small rubber basketball off the floor. He threw it into the cheap net hanging off the closet door. Swish! "KOBE!"

Ugh. Why did Shane think it was a good idea to pack all his books last? They're covering everything! He pulled out a book titled "How to Get People to Like You in 90 Seconds” and threw it aside. (Please don't make fun of him too much; he's trying his best.)

"What's a Kobe?"

Jake turned around and frowned. "He's a basketball player. I can’t believe you’ve never heard of him. Wow, you really are Canadian." He turned around and made another basket. Swish!

Shane pulled out something called "Chicken Soup for the Demonic Soul" and tossed it to his left. "Uh, yeah, haha, I don't really know much about sports..."

"That's fine." Jake smiled at all the books Shane was throwing aside, not really taking in any of the titles. "Maybe you'll get my bro to be less of a dumb jock."

"Hah, maybe..." Dammit, why did Shane have to pack so much?! He thought being prepared would help with his anxiety, but that wasn't working out so well. He yanked out "The Satanic Verses: the Self Help Book for Those Raised by the Dark Lord" and set it aside.

"So..." Jake said with forced casualness as he turned his back to Shane and picked up the ball. "Ryan really likes you, you know."

"Oh cool, yeah, I like him too," Shane said distractedly while he threw aside this stupid childrens' book called "Glad Monster, Sad Monster: A Book About Feelings", authored by who other than B**** B******. Bullseye suggested it was ~at his level~, which honestly, was probably true.

"No, I mean he really likes you..." Jake bent down next to Shane and started rifling through Ryan's bag, thankfully missing something titled "Moms Can Give You Daddy Issues Too: Your Go-To Guide to Double Parental Abandonment!" (That one was a little embarrassing.)

"Oh, that's nice..." Shane wasn't paying to much attention to what Ryan's baby brother was saying; he had to find these stupid sweaters. Did he leave them in Hell?

"YES! RYAN BROUGHT IT BACK!" Jake yelled triumphantly. He pulled out a purple hat with a yellow Lakers' logo and put it on. "This was my favorite hat of his and he took it to LA with him, can you believe it?! It looks better on me anyways."

Shane laughed. Jake reminded him so much of his human; he felt his nerves start to dissipate. Jake bounded over to Ryan's bed and dangled his feet off the sides as Shane finally found the sweaters at the bottom of his bag. He held them up. "Here's my-"

"Hey, do you like men?"

Shane set the sweaters down. "What?"

Jake shrugged. "Ryan was wondering, but he thought it'd be rude to ask."

"Oh." Shane scratched the back of his head uncomfortably. "Uh, yeah. Yeah, I do."

Jake beamed. "That's great!"

"It is?"

"BOYS!" Linda shouted from downstairs. "DINNER'S READY!"

"It sure is." Jake stood up and clapped Shane on the back as he slid past him. "Remind me to teach you about mistletoe later."

Missiles have toes?!


Shane stepped down the stairs and made his way to the living room cautiously. He'd never had a family dinner before, not even in his childhood. (Can you really call it a family dinner if there's only two members?) He wasn't sure what to expect.

Linda, Steve, and Ryan were sitting around a large, rectangular table with a delicate white and silver tablecloth. The plates and cutlery were already set up pristinely, surrounding a generous array of different dishes in the middle. Turkey, mashed potatoes, some kind of casserole... Shane's mouth watered.

Shane sighed in relief when he noticed they’d left a spot at the table for him. Even better, it was next to Ryan! (In afterthought, that was probably on purpose.) The demon sat down next to the only human he's ever felt truly comfortable with and braced himself for polite conversation.

"Shane, would you like some of the wine you got me?" Steve offered pleasantly. "I know it's technically dessert wine, but I couldn't wait."

"Oh, uh, sure." Shane held out his glass for Ryan's father to pour. "Thanks, Steve." The name felt awkward on his tongue, but Steve seemed to appreciate it.

"No problem, son. So, Jake stole you away pretty quick, we didn't get to really talk..."

Shane didn't respond, as he was still trying to figure out why Ryan's dad would call him "son."

"Not sorry," Jake said as he dug into his cranberry sauce. "The Shanester and I are best buds now."

We are? Shane and Jake couldn't be best friends; they just met! Were they making fun of him? He squirmed in his seat.

Ryan noticed, because he's Ryan. He subtly slid his hand into Shane's under the table and offered him a small, reassuring smile. Shane held on tight; he wasn't getting through this without his emotional support human.

"Would you like one of these, dear?" Linda offered him a silver tray of these white things that were about the size of an apple.

Shane had read in one of his books that it's polite to say yes to these sorts of things. "Yes, please. Thank you." He took one, and was surprised by how squishy it was in his hand. The thing seemed to be half air.

Linda smiled at Ryan. "Wow, this one has manners. Nice job, Ry."

"Ryan's ex was a douche," Jake explained as he stuffed his face with sweet potatoes. "We like you better already."

"Jake!" Linda reprimanded. "Don't eat with your mouth open!"

Jake gave her a thumbs up as he took a big swing of his ginger ale.

Linda shook her head at him before turning attention back to Shane. "But yes, Ryan's ex was a douche, and we do like you better already."

Everyone laughed while Shane smiled into his napkin. The knots in his stomach loosened a tiny bit while he made a mental note to find out the name of Ryan's ex and give Stephanos a fun new assignment.

Ryan groaned. "Once again, Shane and I are not together. And can we maybe not talk about my ex right now?"

"Sure thing, honey..." The table fell into somewhat comfortable silence. Shane awkwardly reached across his plate for his glass with his left hand; he refused to let go of Ryan's right. He knew what he had to do now. Taking a deep breath, Shane mustered all his bravery and tried to introduce a new topic of conversation:

"Um, could someone tell me what this is, please?" He held up the white thing.

Everyone set their glasses down and gave him an odd look.

"A bread roll?" Jake's answer sounded more like a question. "You really don't know?"

"Don't be rude, Jake!" his father scolded, but he looked a little confused himself.

"Shane's Canadian," Ryan reminded them, as if that was a perfectly reasonable explanation. "They don't have bread rolls like ours up there. The ones they have look a little different..."

God bless Ryan Bergara.

"... Yeah, there's a name for them, but I forgot. What is it again, Shane?"

God damn Ryan Bergara.

Everyone looked at him expectantly. Shane cleared his throat. "Um, uh, we call them... toasties. They're shaped like hearts." (Shane doesn't know why he says the things he says either, so don't bother asking.)

"Toasties?" Linda frowned. "Huh, I thought that was British." She shrugged. "Oh well. Can you pass the butter, Ry?"

"So Shane, Ryan tells us you're a comedian," Steve began. "What's the job like?"

"Torture."

Everyone burst into delighted laughter, much to Shane's confusion.

"Hah, we really do have a comedian here!"

"Same here, bro. Especially during tax season."

Shane frowned. "No, really, we torture human souls-"

Ryan squeezed Shane's hand harshly in the universal gesture for shut up, idiot! He snapped his mouth shut.

Thankfully, Ryan smoothed it over. "Haha, yeah, Shane's such a funny guy. Always with the sarcasm. So, did everyone try the chicken? I thought the chicken was lovely."

"This is turkey, Ryan.”


An hour or so later, Shane felt much more comfortable with the Bergaras. They seemed genuinely interested him and what he had to say. Disorienting, but nice. They also laughed at his jokes, which wasn't disorienting because Shane's hilarious.

Now that dinner was finished, Shane was lounging in the living room with Linda in full-on food coma mode while the Bergara men cleaned up. He enjoyed chatting with Ryan's mother; turns out, they both like sewing!

But, of course, a certain human had to ruin it all, with nothing more than the innocent ring of a doorbell. Jake got to the door first.

"Oh my gosh! Hey, man! How've you been? I haven't seen you since Ryan last visited."

Oh no, this could only be...

Shane took a good look. After all, he'd never seen this human in the light before.

Standing in the foyer was a Puerto Rican man around Ryan's age, with brown curly hair and dark olive skin that went nicely with his green Maine Mariners jersey. Shane scoffed. Does the dude only own one shirt? Anyways, this certain human was relatively tall and lanky, but not as tall and lanky as Shane, thank you very much. That's his brand. The human had dark brown eyes framed by admittedly full lashes and thick eyebrows. Other than that, nothing much stuck out about him except that he was wearing shoes indoors. That monster.

Jake dragged the intruder over to Shane and Linda. "Hey, Shane, this is Ricky! He's been Ryan's best friend since, like, kindergarten, so he's basically family."

Shane seethed.

"I gotta go finish cleaning up, so you guys can chat!" And Jake was gone.

Shane stood up and crossed his arms. "Richard."

Richard crossed his arms right back. "It's Ricardo, ass hat."

"Ricky!" Linda smacked him lightly on the back of his head like he was her own son. "Don't be rude to our guest. All he did was get your name wrong."

"Yeah, that's all he did," Ricky said sarcastically.

Shane clenched his fists before forcing himself to chill. He'd been dreading this moment. "I'd like to discuss something with you, Ricky." After all, it's rude not to use someone's proper name. He smiled brightly at Ryan's mother. "Could you excuse us for a moment, Linda?"

"Sure thing, dear." Linda shot a warning glare at Ricky. "Be nice to Shane."

The two waited patiently until the lovely woman was out of hearing range. Shane sighed. "Look, I'm sorry I scared you by breaking into Ryan's room in the middle of the night dressed as your clone and dropping a decapitated head on you."

Ricky raised his eyebrows. "Is that all you've got to say?"

Ugh! "What do you want from me? I apologized, didn't I?"

"Uh, how about paying for my therapy bills, as a start?"

Shane rolled his eyes. "Don't try to tell me you needed therapy for that."

"I absolutely did need therapy for that!" Ricky said indignantly. "For weeks! With this dumb guy named Toby. Dude had the personality of dry wall."

Shane tried not to grin at that. "Alright, fine. I'm really sorry. That good enough?"

"No?"

Shane put his hands on his hips. "Haven't you heard that Christmas is the time for forgiveness?"

Ricky put his hands on his hips right back. "Haven't you heard that Christmas is for humans? Don't you have some people to stab with pitchforks down there?"

Shane gasped. "That's racist!"

"How could I possibly be racist to you? You're the whitest guy I've ever seen in my life. I bet you clap after the airplane lands," Ricky said scathingly.

Shane's mouth fell open. Now, that's too far. "Newsflash: I've never even been on an airplane, Richard!"

"IT'S RICARDO!"

Ryan rushed into the room. "Guys, guys, break it up!"

Shane and Ricky stepped back from each other.

"Ryan, he's being rude to me!"

"Yeah, well he psychologically scarred me."

Ryan turned to Shane. "Did you apologize?" He nodded. "Alright then, what more do you want, Ricky?"

"That's what I said!"

Ricky's mouth fell open. "You're seriously taking his side?!"

"Oh come on, dude. It's not about sides. Chill out a little; it's Christmas."

"How about this?" Shane offered. "Send me the bills for your therapy and I'll reimburse you. I'll even give you an 'intentional infliction of emotional distress' bonus. That good?"

Ricky grunted in vague agreement.

"Great!" Ryan said cheerily. "Also, it's nice to see you man." He pulled Ricky into a tight hug and stepped back with a grin. "I'll be right back."

Damn, Ryan can really smooth anything over. "Cool, so now that we have a truce-"

"Uh, I didn't agree to a truce," Ricky retorted.

"Okay?"

"I was willing to give you another chance, but your second impression is looking just as bad as your first. And you're dating my best friend-"

Shane clenched his fists. "He's my best friend! And we're not dating!"

"Yeah, sure, whatever." Ricky took a step closer, fully committing to staring Shane down. "Ryan might think you've secretly got a heart of gold and the Bergaras might think you're an actual human being-"

"Quiet down!" Shane hissed. Linda, Steve, and Jake didn’t need to overhear this conversation.

"But I know the truth." Ricky crossed his arms. "And I'm going to prove it."


Ugh, can you believe this?! Shane only dropped a decapitated head on him one time!

Chapter Text

Shane spent his first night at the Bergaras watching "The Grinch" with them. They'd all seen it a million times, so Jake and Linda only popped in to watch their favorite parts, and Steve was mostly on his iPad. But Shane was riveted. In a stunning plot twist, he learned the Grinch was supposed to be the villain this whole time!

Isn't that insane? The movie starts out with the meanest song in the world, where the singer flings insult after insult at the Grinch, and then you learn all the Whos bullied him as a child, and how even after he moved away to his mountain, they still won't leave him alone! Stupid teens have to climb up to his home and harass him for a ~thrill~. Unbelievable.


Jake came up behind the couch and tapped Shane's shoulder, looking uncharacteristically serious. "Hey, can I talk to you for a sec?"

Shane's stomach dropped. Had Ricky already told him? He nodded and followed Jake into the living room. Ryan's brother peeked around the corner to make sure the rest of the Bergaras were still watching the movie before speaking:

"So, Ricky pulled me aside earlier, and he said something weird..."

"Oh?" Shane replied, as innocently as he could manage.

Jake bit his lip for a moment. "I'm sorry, I'm not sure how to say this... Ricky heavily implied you aren't who you say you are."

Shane's mouth went dry. "What do you mean?"

"Uh, well he suggested that you're not Canadian, but he was being super weird about it. I think he was trying to say more than that."

"I don't know what to say..." Shane honestly didn't.

Jake twisted the hemp bracelets on his left wrist for a moment, avoiding eye contact. "My brother really likes you," he said quietly. "And if it wasn't abundantly clear, I'll just tell you right now that he has feelings for you."

Damn, now Shane can't play dumb anymore. "I, um, have feelings for him, too," he admitted.

Jake smiled for a moment. "That's great to hear. You seem like such a cool guy... we'd love to have you in the family. I don't think you know how much you've impacted Ryan."

"I don't understand..."

Jake grimaced. "Before he met you, Ry was really depressed. Things weren't looking great at his job, and he was having trouble finding his place in LA... like where he belonged, y'know? We were so worried about him. He wasn't the Ryan you know now. He didn't seem to be taking care of himself, and he'd barely return our calls or answer our texts; he'd just say he was fine and not to worry." Jake sighed. "We were honestly about to fly to LA and stage an intervention. I hate to admit this, but we were going to try to convince Ry to come home."

Shane's heart clenched in his chest. "I had no idea... I mean, he told me he was lonely, but I didn’t know it was that bad."

"Yeah," Jake said softly. "It was rough, but that's why we're so happy he has you. You gave him hope again, man."

"I don't really think I can take credit for that."

Jake shrugged. "Whatever you want to believe. I'm just saying, we want to like you. We want things to work out between you and Ry. So, if anything Ricky's implying is true, can you please just tell me?”

Shane sighed. Jake reminded him so much of Ryan, with his genuine heart, earnest eyes, and willingness to believe the best in people. He wished he could tell the truth, but "I'm the antichrist" isn't exactly easy to explain. If Shane told Jake who he was, he'd probably hate him. Who'd want a demon as a brother-in-law? But Jake deserved as much of the truth as Shane could provide.

"Well, there is some truth in what he's saying, but not in the way you think. Ricky and I, uh, didn't meet for the first time yesterday. We met once before, when he visited Ryan a few months ago."

Jake frowned. "Why didn't either of you say anything?"

Shane shifted on his feet. "We didn't get off on the right foot... Honestly, it's all my fault. I came over without letting Ryan know beforehand, and when I saw Ricky, I assumed they were together without even asking. I acted like an asshole... I can be a real demon when I'm jealous."

"Oh..."

"I'm so sorry I didn't tell any of you," Shane said earnestly. "I should've been upfront about it, but I was worried you wouldn't like me. I think you're all amazing too, and I really want things to work out here."

"Okay, I guess I can understand that..."

"I apologized to Ricky, too, if that makes any difference. Several times, but he won't accept it..."

Jake grimaced. "Yeah, that sounds like Ricky. Dude can hold a grudge more than anyone. He's a sweetheart, unless you get on his bad side."

Unfortunately, Jake was talking to Shane "On Ricky's Bad Side" Madej. "It's still my fault, though. None of this would've happened if I hadn't acted like a dick."

Jake nodded. "Well, I can appreciate you taking responsibility, at least."

Shane swallowed. Here comes the lie: "I don't know what he was implying by saying I'm not Canadian, because I really am. I think he just doesn't like me and he's looking for a reason for you guys to dislike me as well."

Jake crossed his arms. "That's not cool. Yeah, you might've been a dick in the past, but you seemed to have learned something. He's being a dick right now."

"Is there anything I can do to change his mind? Apologies obviously aren't working."

Jake shook his head. "Probably not. It's tough to change Ricky's mind once he forms an opinion on someone."

"Okay," Shane sighed. "Well, I'm still sorry. To Ricky, and to you and your parents. If you want to tell them, I understand."

Jake looked confused. "I'm not going to do that. Of course not. All I wanted to do here was make sure you're a good guy, if you're going to date my brother. Don't worry, we don't expect you to be perfect, Shane. It's all cool now. C'mere."

Jake pulled Shane into a hug, and Shane honestly almost fucking cried. When Jake stepped back, his brows furrowed with concern. “You okay, man?"

"Y-Yeah," Shane said shakily. "I just, um, I don't really have any family besides my dad, who barely talks to me, so I'm not used to all this." He wrapped his arms around himself, as if he could hold himself together in this moment. The guilt was threatening to tear him to pieces.

Jake smiled sympathetically. "Well, get used to it, big guy." He got no response. He touched Shane's arm. "Hey, let me know if you need anything, alright?"

Shane nodded. "Thanks. I'm, um, pretty tired. Can you let the others know I went to bed?"

"Sure thing, dude. Goodnight."


Shane walked right into Ryan's room and shut the door. As soon as he was officially alone, the crying began. He knelt down and began paging through all his stupid self-help books, splattering them with tears. It was hard to explain why he was so upset. The guilt of deceiving such genuinely kind people was eating him alive, of course, but it was more than that.

After a minute, Shane gave up. It's not like he was expecting step-by-step instructions for "what to do when you're a demon, but your crush is a human and you want to be close to his family without exposing the underworld and having them run away in terror" written anywhere. He threw the books aside and hung his head in his hands. This situation felt hopeless.

Not knowing what else to do, Shane changed into his pajamas and crept into Ryan's stupid, tiny racecar bed. They hadn't discussed where Shane would be sleeping yet, but at this point, it was assumed they'd sleep together. Even if Shane's fucking feet were hanging off the edge of the mattress, it was preferable to sleeping on the couch alone.

Shane laid there in silence. His cheeks were puffy, his eyes were red, and his face felt hot. The tears wouldn't stop, but they had to, eventually. He'd just wait it out.

A few moments later, he heard the door open quietly. It was Ryan, of course. His best friend carefully flicked off all the lights and climbed into bed beside him. Ryan laid on his back, while Shane was on his side, facing the window. The warm weight of Ryan's body beside him was comforting, and talking to him would be even more comforting, but what was there to say? Shane pretended to be asleep.

Ryan turned towards him. "Shane, what's wrong?"

Guess he's no good at pretending.

Shane rolled over to face his best friend, whose big brown eyes were filled with concern. "I'm okay. It's just that..." His breath hitched pathetically. "Your brother is a fucking angel."

Ryan laughed and rubbed Shane's arm. "You think so? Eh, he's pretty annoying."

"Seriously, Jake is so nice. He was so kind to me."

Ryan frowned. "Then why are you upset, big guy? You deserve kindness."

In the cover of darkness, Shane found it was easier to have this type of conversation. "I feel terrible for lying to your family, and for making you lie to them, too. About me being a demon, how we met, everything..."

Ryan sighed and curled his arm around Shane's waist. He could smell the peppermint of his toothpaste and the cinnamon of his aftershave. "Yeah, it doesn't feel great, but I don't see any other choice."

"There probably isn't one," Shane agreed glumly, sinking further into the pillow.

"What else is bothering you? You went to bed so early... my parents were asking about you."

Shane's eyes widened. "Oh no, did they think it was suspicious?!"

"No, no," Ryan said soothingly. "They were just concerned. They wanted me to check on you and ask if you're feeling well and if you need anything."

And isn't that just the fucking worst?

"Oh," Shane said quietly. Then the tears began all over again.

"Shane!" Ryan gasped, alarmed. "What's wrong?!"

"They don't-don’t like me," Shane blubbered articulately.

He couldn't see in the darkness, but he could picture Ryan's taken-aback expression. "What?! No, Shane, it's the opposite. You should've heard how they were talking about you after you went upstairs; they love you! Jake especially."

Shane shook his head. "No, they don't. Not the real me."

"What do you mean?"

Shane sat up in the bed. "I mean I'm a fucking demon, Ryan. No human could like me."

Ryan sat up as well. “I like you, so you're obviously wrong there."

"You're the exception," Shane grumbled. Before Ryan could object, he added, "Don't lie to me. If we went downstairs and told them right now, they'd freak. They'd run out of the house."

Ryan sighed.

"See?" Shane said bitterly. "No matter how much they say they like me, it doesn't matter. They don't like the real Shane."

Ryan was quiet for a moment. "Shane... have you ever considered that being a demon isn't your identity?"

Shane paused. "I don't understand."

"Yes, you're a demon biologically, but biology isn't everything. The only one who gets to say who you are is you."

"Meaning?"

Shane had discarded the blanket when he sat up, but Ryan was still wrapped in warmth. He scooted closer to Shane and wrapped the comforter around his shoulders so they could share. "Okay, so there's certain things we can control and certain things we can't, right?"

Shane nodded, clutching the blanket closer.

"Your family, your living situation, biology... You can't choose any of that. You're born into it."

"Ain't that the truth..." the devil’s son grumbled.

"But, but, but, that doesn't matter!" Ryan said earnestly, grabbing Shane's hands. "Sure, you can't control the past, but the future's all yours! Who you spend time with, what you do for a living, your likes and dislikes... those are all your decisions. It's those choices that define you. And I'm talking about the real Shane, here."

He wasn't quite getting it. "But how is ~the real Shane~ any different from a demon?"

He could make out Ryan's small smile from the street light filtering in through the window. "You're not cruel."

"..."

"You're not. You don't act like a demon, Shane. You don't scare people, and even when you did, you never scared kids. That shows you knew it was wrong all along, but you didn't know any other way. You're kind and you're caring, Shane, even if you feel you have to hide it."

"... Uh, that's really nice of you to say and all.... but, like, I did drop a decapitated head on someone."

Ryan laughed. "We all make mistakes. And yeah, that wasn't a great moment for you, but that was months ago, and you've grown so much since then."

"You wanna tell Richard that?"

"Dude, it's Ricardo! And he doesn't even like being referred to by his full name. If you want to fix things with him, you could start by calling him Ricky."

"Damn..." Shane scratched his head. "Should've thought of that earlier."

Ryan laughed again. "You're a fucking idiot, but you're my idiot."

A smile pulled at Shane's lips. "Touché, human."

"Can't argue with ya there," Ryan chuckled. "Do you get what I mean, though?"

Shane thought about it. "Well, honestly, this is a new concept to me. I'm not sure I fully understand, or if I agree... but I'll think about what you said."

Ryan smiled. "That's all I'm asking for. You feel better, big guy?"

Shane yawned. "Yeah. I mean, still having an identity crisis, but like, it's cool for now."

"Alright, then. Let's go to bed."


The boys cuddled until they fell asleep, as comfortable as they could be in a bed meant for a child. Shane was lulled to sleep by Ryan’s slow breathing and the whistling wind as the snow fell gently outside. Is this what peace feels like? Anyways, Shane got to be the little spoon for the first time in his life, encased in two big, strong Bergara arms that kept him safe and warm. It was fucking awesome.

Chapter Text

CRASH!

Brent groaned. Hadn't he just fallen back asleep? Regretfully, he reached over and flipped on the bedside lamp. He sat up and rubbed his eyes, trying to remember how to be a fully functioning demon.

Beside him, his angelic girlfriend grumbled unintelligibly as she rolled away from the harsh light. Instinctively, her soft wings that served as quite effective blankets abandoned Brent in favor of sweeping up to block her eyes. He shivered at the sudden loss of warmth. "It's your turn," Clavis reminded him.

"I know, but they like you so much better..." Brent tried hopefully. It was true, after all. Guess he wasn't father material.

One of her wings stretched out to swat at him. "Your. Turn," she growled from under the white mass of feathers. If her annoyance wasn't so endearing, he might be a little terrified at that tone.

Brent sighed. "Of course, dearest." Carefully, he held his finger up to his beard so the only spider baby that actually liked him could hop down onto his hand. (Liked him too much, frankly. After the whole "bring your children to work day" debacle, Munchie was now so attached to his savior that he refused to sleep anywhere but snuggled up in his beard.)

Still, the little guy was pretty cute. "Let's go see what your siblings have done now, huh?" Munchie chirped happily.

Brent flipped the light off and quietly closed the bedroom door behind him, lest he make history by becoming the first murder victim of an angel.

The exhausted babysitter trudged down the hall and opened the door to his guest bedroom, only to be met with a horrifying mass of spiders, out of their tank and clumped by the window. They seemed to be working as one unit, using... Valyrian Steel to pry open the window!

"HEY!"

The spiders jumped and fell out of synch, sending Brent's precious model Game of Thrones sword clattering to the floor. That must've been the source of the crash earlier. He looked up to see that sure enough, they had somehow gotten the sword off its mount.

"SERIOUSLY?!" Brent ran over and picked up his prize possession, now covered in smudges and slightly bent at the handle. His 1367 little responsibilities scattered away. Brent turned to the window pane, relieved to see they hadn't broken it yet, but they'd scratched the wood pretty nicely. "No, come back here! I want you all to take a good look at what you did!"

For the past few days, Shane's babies had refused to listen to him. They'd only obeyed Clavis, who apparently specialized in spider whispering along with finding lost keys. This time, Brent's tone was so livid that 1366 tiny nightmares crawled meekly back to him while Munchie retreated into his beard.

"You see all this property damage?!" Like a scolded puppy, the spiders had a way of showing they knew they've done something wrong without words. They clustered closer together. "And you know what's even worse than that?" Brent had been managing his anger better recently, but with the lack of sleep combined his mounting frustration, he felt a tirade coming on.

"What's even worse is let's say you had managed to escape? Do you know what's outside?" Brent wasn't expecting a response. "Birds! Bats! Frogs! Bigger spiders! All things that could easily eat you!"

The glob of spiders shuddered as Munchie squeaked in fear. "Come on, guys, I know you're smarter than that. Shane thinks you're all tiny geniuses. So why would you even risk it, unless..." Brent frowned.

Oh.

His face softened as the guilt sank in. "You miss Shane, don't you?" They must’ve been trying to get back to him.

The tiny creatures collectively blinked once, as their means of saying of course we do.

Brent sighed. “I’m sorry, guys. I mean, wrecking my stuff isn’t cool, but I’m sorry for yelling so much. I forgot that this is the longest you’ve ever been away from Shane your whole lives. You must miss him terribly, but he’s coming back, I promise. He loves you so much, enough to memorize 1367 names.” Which was, frankly, ridiculous.

Brent sat down cross-legged on the floor. The babies clustered around him as if he was about to tell a bedtime story. He chuckled. “I’ll tell you a secret: your dad is annoying as hell, but I miss him too. Work is no fun without my cubicle buddy.”

It was funny; no matter how often Shane and Brent quarreled at work, no one ever took it seriously. Perhaps because for the past three years, the two sat together at every meeting, every company event, every sponsored lunch... They even ate lunch together normally now, no longer pretending they were together only because they were forced to be. His job had been even more depressing since Shane left for his trip.

Because, for the past few days, no one had saved Brent a seat and everyone had referred to him by his name.


When Clavis awoke the next morning, she was surprised to realize her demon wasn’t beside her. Stretching out her wings with a yawn, she got up to check on the 1367 little darlings. When she opened the door, she was met with quite an adorable sight:

Brent Bennett, completely passed out on the rocking chair, mouth hanging open and drooling, with a giant pile of spiders sleeping peacefully on his lap.


Back on earth, Shane was missing his spider babies. And, as much as he hates to admit it, he missed 221B Baker Street, too.

But that's a secret. Don't you dare tell him.

Chapter Text

The next morning, Shane woke up refreshed and ready to become his best self. The Bergaras were damn inspiring people, and he was motivated to be Not An Asshole. He pulled on a black I'VE BEEN NAUGHTY sweater, which in hindsight, was clear foreshadowing.

Regardless, Shane bounded down the staircase and greeted the Bergaras with a big smile that grew even bigger when he discovered Steve had made pancakes! And eggs, and bacon, and cinnamon rolls... seriously, these people were amazing. Shane was happy to help clean up afterwards and chat with Ryan's parents while their sons dug out the snow gear from the basement.

Afterwards, Jake pulled Shane aside and mentioned Ricky was coming over again. Despite Jake's doubts, Shane was confident he could win Ricky over. He's charmed all of you, hasn't he? So when the doorbell rang, Shane braced himself and resolved to be kind and civil to the dude who tried to rat him out. Time to take the high ground.


The high ground lasted about thirty seconds.

Look, it's not Shane's fault this time! It’s really not!

Ding dong! The boys all crowded around the doorway to let their visitor in. Ricky stepped in, already dressed head-to-toe in red snowgear.

“Hi Ricky!” Shane said brightly. “How are you?”

Ricky crossed his arms. “Oh I’m pretty good! Thanks for asking, Satan.”

“...”

“SHANE MADEJ, YOU PUT YOUR FISTS DOWN THIS INSTANT!” Ryan yelled.

“HE CALLED ME MY FATHER, RYAN!” But Shane complied.

Ricky's eyes lit up. “Jake, did you hear that?! He just admitted his dad is the devil! What does that make him?”

Jake rolled his eyes. “It’s an expression, dude.”

"Uh, yeah," Shane clarified. "My dad's a douche, so I associate him with the devil."

Richard glowered.

"Hey guys, it's almost Christmas, and there's tons of snow outside, how about we try to, ya know, not kill each other and have fun?" Ryan suggested.

"Of course, Ry," Shane said sweetly.

"oF cOuRsE rY," Richard mimicked as the group made their way through the kitchen to the backdoor. Wow. Had Shane finally come across someone as petty as yours truly? He didn't know whether to be irritated or impressed.

He didn't have to decide, because any emotions towards Ricky vanished as soon as Shane stepped outside into his first snowfall. Tiny, white specks floated gently down from the sky, whirling all around them like that dumb snow globe on Beatlemania's desk. Jake and Ricky set off immediately to build a fort, but Shane stood there in stunned silence. Later on, he learned that's the thing about snow: if there's enough of it blanketing the ground, it absorbs soundwaves as effectively as God turning the volume down.

"Whoa."

Ryan's backyard was covered in sparkly, white frosting. The tiny ice crystals were too small to make out on their own, but together, they had a dazzling effect, reflecting the sunlight back at him from all angles. Shane had to squint in the bright light.

He was broken from his trance when something cold hit his nose, making him jump. He reached up to wipe it off, and was confused by the drop of water on his finger. That's not snow. "Ryan?"

He turned to see his human still at the doorstep, watching him in a way that was, terrifyingly, adoring. What would give anyone else butterflies sent chills down Shane's spine. Ryan's glowing smile highlighted the way his cheeks and nose were pink from the cold. Now, that's just unfair. He bounded over, leaving deep boot imprints behind him.

"You like it?"

"I love it! This is crazy!"

Ryan gave him another 10,000 watt grin before squatting down and scooping up a wad of snow and offering it to him. "Here."

Shane carefully took the strange material into his gloved hands, holding it as delicately as he would a baby bird. It was cold, of course, but it had this weird quality to it... The stuff was so lightweight, he barely felt like he was holding anything. Nature's Styrofoam. "Huh."

"Yo, check out our fort!" Jake called out from the back of the yard. They had somehow manipulated the snow like Play-Dough; the boys stood proudly behind a lopsided wall.

"Great job, guys!" Ryan yelled back. "We'll challenge you to a fight in a bit."

Shane looked back down at his hands and gasped. "Ryan!" he cried. "I'm so sorry; I broke it!" All that remained was a tiny puddle, sinking into his mittens.

Ryan laughed. "No, you didn't; don't worry. That's just what happens when snow comes into contact with your warm skin. It melts into its liquid form."

"Thank god. Can we fix it?"

"Not without a snow machine. But it's totally fine, big guy! We're not running out anytime soon."

Shane sighed in relief. Ryan Bergara really is the most forgiving human, isn't he?

"Wanna see something cool?" Ryan reached out to catch a snowflake. "Hold your breath for a second." He held up his black glove close to Shane's face.

Shane looked closely and had to repress a gasp when he noticed what Ryan was pointing out. An impossibly tiny crystal, frozen into a translucent symmetric shape with jagged edges, delicate and sharp at the same time. It was no wonder it fell from the sky; this intricate, twinkling little star was as dazzling as the ones above.

Ryan noticed his expression and grinned. "Pretty, huh? Snowflakes form when water molecules attach onto specks of dust in the atmosphere. The shape slowly takes form as the temperature changes up and down, so each one is unique! Every single one! They all have six points, though."

Shane was amazed. "You're telling me these aren't man-made?!"

At his exclamation, the snowflake immediately melted. Shane covered his hands with his mouth, knowing it was far too late. "Oh, no! I'm so sorry!"

Ryan laughed. "It's okay.” He frowned when Shane didn't respond. "Really buddy, it's fine..." He touched Shane's arm. "Hey, look at me, what's wrong?"

Shane sighed. It was a stupid thing to be sad about, but he knew Ryan wouldn't judge him for it. At this point, he trusts you won't make fun of him, either. "It was so pretty, and I destroyed it... There's never going to be another one like that again."

"Oh." Ryan had his thinking expression on. "Well, did they teach you about the water cycle in demon school?"

"Yeah, of course. We didn't learn about snow, though."

"That's fine; it works the same way. The snowflake you just melted? It's water now, which will eventually find its way back to a lake or stream. Once it's there, it'll evaporate and condense into clouds, and the next time it snows, it'll make another snowflake! So by destroying something, you were actually creating something new!"

That made Shane feel a little better. "But that doesn't change the fact that the first one's gone."

"Hmm. Well, snowflakes are really beautiful, right?"

Shane nodded.

"I think..." Ryan caught another snowflake and held it up. Shane held his breath carefully this time. "Sure, it's pretty aesthetically, but part of its beauty comes from how fleeting it is. It's only here for a moment. There was never a snowflake like this one before, and there'll never be another one like this again. If they were all the same and we got to keep them forever, I don't think we'd appreciate how special they are."

That was beyond cheesy, but Shane burst into a smile. "That's deep, Bergara."

Ryan nudged him playfully. "Don't look so surprised, Madej. I can be deep!"

"Mhmm." Now that today's existential crisis was over, Shane was back to enjoying his first snowfall. He inhaled. The air had a muted scent to it, crisp and clean, with just a hint of salt. But when he exhaled deeply...

"RYAN, LOOK!" he yelled excitedly, even though Ryan was right beside him. "I'M A DRAGON!" He exhaled again, delighted with the wisps of visible air tumbling out from his mouth up into the sky. He could see his breath!

Ryan laughed. "Wow, look at that! You sure are, big guy."

"Hey Ricky, are ya gonna accuse him of being a dragon, too?"

"Shut up, Jake."


Day turned into night without anyone really noticing. Time flies when you're in a winter wonderland with Ryan Bergara. “Hey Shane, wanna learn how to make a snow angel?”

The demon looked around in confusion. “You guys have those here?”

Ryan laughed. “No, not real angels! Here, I’ll show you.” The human flopped down on his back, waving his limbs in the snow like a spider that had fallen onto its back and couldn’t get up (Shane knew from experience.)

Shane put his hands on his hips as he stood over his human. “What on earth are you doing? You look like an idiot.”

"I told you, I'm making an angel! And you're gonna make one, too!" Apparently Shane had no choice; he yelped as Ryan sat up and yanked at his belt loops, sending him tumbling down on top of him. Shane had to brace his elbows on the snow to avoid totally crushing the puny human, who just giggled, either unaware or uncaring that he'd almost been squished by the antichrist.

Shane sat up, inadvertently straddling Ryan's hips in a suggestive position. His entire body had gone numb a while ago; all he could feel was the heat where the top of Ryan's thighs met his. "Y'know, we really need to stop meeting like this," he said with a smirk.

He only got to enjoy Ryan's blush for a moment before his mother was calling him inside. Ryan sat up on his elbows and turned his head. "Coming, mom!" He turned to Shane. "Alright, now get off me, demon."

"Hmm, I don't know if I should." Shane grinned wickedly as he leaned forward to press Ryan's upper body into the snow. "After all, you're the one who dragged me down here." Damn, what he'd do to have Ryan Bergara in this position in a different context.

"Ha ha... very funny..." When he couldn't sit up, Ryan wrapped his hands around Shane's wrists and tugged, only for his eyes to widen when his captor didn't budge. "What the fuck?" he said breathlessly. "You're-you're stronger than you look, bean pole."

Shane winked as he stood up and brushed the snow off his knees before helping Ryan up as well.

Ryan turned around, looking at the amorphous dent in the snow below them. "Uh, it usually turns out better than that, but we kinda ruined it."

"We ruined it?"

"Oh, whatever." Ryan's mother was calling him again, more insistently now. "Make your own while I'm gone. You'll see; it'll actually look pretty cool. Just do what I did!" he instructed before running off.

Shane crossed his arms. Did Ryan Bergara just expect him to follow his every command? Doesn't he know he's speaking to a prince?

Predictably, Shane got down on the ground and started making a snow angel. He didn't know what he was doing; the only thing he did know was he looked like a fool. Still, the soft, cool ground felt good against his back, and it was beautiful looking up at the snow fluttering down from the starry sky.

After a few minutes, Shane figured he'd flailed long enough. He got up to inspect his art. Huh, it really did look like an angel, with a dress, and wings, and... horns?! Shane didn't have horns! He gripped his head to double-check and only felt the fluffy pom-pom on the hat Jake lent him. Regardless, two horn-shaped indents were burned into the snow.

Ricky came up behind him. "Uh, Jake and I saw you earlier. Can you, like, not molest my friend in front of everybody?" He froze when he noticed the scorch marks. Shit.

"No, c'mon Ricky, please don't-"

The traitor cupped his hands around his mouth. "GUYS, COME LOOK AT THIS!"

All four Bergaras were headed their way. Shit, shit, shit. Ricky smirked at Shane's panicked expression. Fortunately, at the last moment, Shane had an idea: he kicked a pile of snow over the offending horns.

"What is it?" Jake asked Ricky.

Linda looked down and smiled. "Aww, Shane made his first snow angel! That's adorable!"

Steve grinned as he dug his phone out of his pocket. "We need to remember this! Shane, want to pose with your angel?" (Shane's angel was standing right beside them, actually.)

"Um, no thanks..." Shane smiled and stepped back awkwardly. "I'm, um, not comfortable with being in pictures." (Demons don't show up on camera, remember?)

"No worries, bud." Ricky frowned suspiciously and pointed his phone at Shane while Steve took a picture of the snow.

Shane held his hands up. "No, please don't-"

"RICKY!" Linda yelled so loud that both Steve and Ricky dropped their phones. "Didn't you hear what Shane said?! He doesn't like being photographed! How dare you try to make our guest uncomfortable? I should take your phone away!"

Yup, Shane would die for this woman.

Ricky picked up his phone sheepishly. "Um, no disrespect Mrs. Bergara, but I'm 28 and you're not my mother-"

"You're right, Ricky," Linda said in a dangerously sweet tone. "I'm not your real mother, so how about I call her? I'm sure Maria would love to hear about this."

"Oh jeez, Mrs. Bergara, please don't! I'm sorry, okay?"

Linda put her hands on her hips. "Why are you apologizing to me?" She turned around and gestured at Shane pointedly.

Ricky sighed. "Sorry, man." He winced as Linda's tirade continued. Steve, Jake, and Ryan slowly backed away into the house, apparently knowing nothing good can happen when Mrs. Bergara gets like this.

Behind her back, Shane's eyes went jet-black, demon style. Ricky noticed.

"MRS. BERGARA, LOOK WHAT HE'S DOING!"

Linda turned around to see Shane standing there innocently with bright hazel eyes. She turned back to Ricky. "Ricardo Lopez, you are getting on my last nerve-"

Over her shoulder, Shane's eyes went black again. He might've shot Richard a little wink.