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I'll Crawl Home (in-order)

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Day 1 (Shane)

It had noticed the guy wandering the halls of the house with some friends - average height, black hair, tanned skin. A wide, open smile; a soul that pulsed with sincerity. Nice. The demon opened its eyes fully, and followed the man through the house, blinking as he screeched at the slightest creak. His friends laughed. He flicked his middle finger up at them, but he laughed along with them, leaning over and bracing his hands on his knees. This was new. It had never cared about a human before. It warranted…investigation.

“See you later, Ryan.” Ryan.

“Good luck with the interview” Interview?

 Day 2

It had followed the human back through the city, and watched him step into a tiny apartment, where he’d stayed awake all night. It wondered if it was its presence, but Ryan seemed jittery – he tossed and turned in his bed, staring at the ceiling with wide eyes, fists clenching and unclenching. Finally, he said “fuck it” and had hauled a laptop out from under his bed and opened his emails. “Why Buzzfeed?” The human said aloud, and then answered his own question: “I truly believe that Buzzfeed can be the springboard I need to start creating the way I’ve always wanted to create…fuck, you sound ridiculous. You’re gonna be laughed outta that fucking interview.”

The demon took its journal out, and scratched a couple of notes. This was worth remembering.

Day 3

Ryan had finally dozed off, and it watched him sleep with that mild interest that seemed to have gripped it. His hair stuck up every which way as he ground his face deeper into the pillow and muttered something about production experience. Its shadowy form swirled ominously in a corner of the cramped room, unnoticed by the sleeping human, and it plotted.

Day 23

It found the body in a cramped, grey, hospital ward in Chicago – a car crash victim. It had assumed his name, his gender, his life, in a heartbeat. It took only a wave of his hand to convince the woman on the other end of the phone that he would be an excellent fit on the internship program. He wanted to see Ryan again.

Day 34

“Hi, I’m Ryan.” He reached out and shook the smaller man’s hand, giving him a crooked smile that he’d found very useful in getting people to do what he’d wanted. It had taken him a few days to remember the logistics of the human body - he hadn’t taken a vessel in over a century - but only one fall down a flight of stairs before he’d had it down. He still had to be wary not to crush Ryan’s hand in his, though.

“Shane. Nice to meet you.”

“You’re…tall,” Ryan said, and the demon couldn’t help but chuckle at the indignant look on his face.

“Better get used to it, baby,” He said, and the embarrassed grin on Ryan’s face made an ancient soul stir.

Day 1 (Ryan)

“Hi, I’m Ryan,” The tall guy reached out a hand to shake, and Ryan shook it, staring up at him. He was…funny-looking. He didn’t mean that unkindly, but the guy had a big head, and drooping eyes, and a generally spacey expression that was concerning.

“Shane. Nice to meet you.” The handshake was firm though. Probably a by-product of big hands.

“You’re…tall,” Ryan said, without thinking. He hadn’t slept well last night, for worry over this new job.

“Better get used to it, baby,” Shane smiled crookedly, and it transformed his entire face into something considerably more charming. Ryan couldn’t help grinning back.

Day 3

Shane was a weird guy. That could be said pretty definitively.

Ryan had given him a lift home after his car had broken down (a heap of junk that Ryan would be ashamed to be seen near, never mind seen with his head buried under the bonnet), and when he mentioned demons, Shane had twitched awkwardly.

Ryan wondered if he was religious. When he dropped him off at the street he’d named, he watched Shane just standing at the side of the road as he drove away. A weird guy.

Day 6

He was a weird guy, but Ryan was kind of into it. He liked him. His eyes crinkled when he laughed.

Day 36

Ryan would do anything for his friends, even when he barely knew them - he had discovered almost immediately, when his vessel’s ancient car had broken down the second day of his internship, and Ryan had offered to drive him home even though he lived in the opposite direction.

“I could be a serial killer,” he joked, and Ryan chuckled.

“I feel like you’re probably secretly an alien. Nobody’s that tall,” He’d said, eyes on the road. “Or, I don’t know, a demon.” He had nearly pulled the handle right off the passenger side door, but there was no way Ryan could have known. He was just a weird guy, who said weird things. It was...endearing.

Day 38

Ryan liked popcorn. So did the demon. Genuinely, not just out of a desire to please the human – he liked the way it crunched between his vessel’s teeth. There were some aspects of taking a corporeal form that were…nice; laughing, coffee, feeling warm. Ryan made him laugh.

Day 75

The Internet was a remarkable resource – humans were far more innovative than the depths of hell gave them credit for . If he'd known he could have such easy access to music, he would have come down from that attic a long time ago. The last piece of music he remember pre-Ryan was something with...lutes? Maybe a harp? But Ryan liked something called hip-hop, and Shane found rock and pop and opera , and alternative folk, and electronica, all on the interwebs. Incredible.

Day 153

He was so afraid. All the fucking time. Asking girls out, pitching video ideas, the dark - it all made Ryan’s palms sweat. But he still did it, with relish even, and Shane didn’t understand it in the slightest, but he felt his very being quicken at the concept.

Day 153

He sometimes noticed Shane spacing out, staring at him. Not exactly at him at him, like at his face, but something in Ryan’s general area. Usually Ryan just had to clear his throat and Shane’s eyes would snap back to his, and he would make a joke or something. It wasn’t a big deal; just something Ryan noticed sometimes.

Day 158

He wished he could have Shane’s weirdly apathetic confidence. Ryan would be standing outside their producer’s office, clutching his pitch in shaking hands, with his knees knocking, and Shane would just shrug and push his way in in front of Ryan with a smirk. He would throw himself down in front of the camera and spout some nonsense and then go for Taco Bell without thinking about it, whilst Ryan usually had to psych himself up for anything performative. None of it bothered Shane. Ryan felt everything, anxiously, all the time. It was exhausting.

But at the same time, Shane balanced Ryan out – a look, a word, in that low voice, was enough to slow his racing heartbeat. He hoped his friend knew how much he appreciated it, because Ryan didn’t think he’d ever find the guts to tell him outright.

He’d been having weird dreams: shifting shadows in the candlelight, a whispering voice trying to warn him of something. It was probably stress. Buzzfeed was hard work.

Day 175

“What do you want for lunch, big guy?”

“….a bagel.”

“Cool.

Day 205

Since he'd last ventured out from inside his home, humans had acquired this weekly ritual of pouring poison down their throats until they could no longer withstand its effects. It was more commonly known as a Friday night, and the demon had to pretend to be drunk. Ryan didn’t - he was swaying back and forth, grinning up at him kind of dopily. Drunk Ryan was much more....giggly, and yet the demon didn't find it remotely irritating. Shane was almost unnerved by how quickly he’d settled into this body, this name, this life - his friendship with Ryan was the most time he’d spent with any human before, and yet the man fascinated him.

Day 282

There wasn’t anything about him on Google from prior to starting his job at Buzzfeed. He never mentioned where he’d gone to college. Ryan didn’t want to pry.

Day 308

Shane wondered if Ryan had ever been curious about Shane’s life before Buzzfeed. If he had, he hadn’t asked, and at any rate he wouldn’t have heard the truth – that Shane Alexander Madej had been a chemistry major, who’d been hit by a car in downtown Chicago at age 27 and should never have woken up. He’d scrubbed Google clean, but he wasn’t sure how to put new search results in place of the old ones – and anyways, his Buzzfeed career and social media was at the top of any searches. Ryan wasn’t going to find out, and he wasn’t going to ask.

Day 482

He wasn’t sure at what point he’d started referring to this vessel’s heart as his own, but he didn’t know where the demon ended and Shane began anymore. There was no denying it was Ryan’s fault. Shane didn’t remember being human - too long ago - but he was pretty sure it felt like laughing until his guts hurt, like a smile brighter than the fucking sun, like feeling the breeze in his hair on the highway out of Los Angeles as someone with golden skin giggled in the driver’s seat.

If he had been human, he would have called it falling. But he wasn’t, and he couldn’t.

Day 487

Who else to co-host his passion project but his best friend? Ryan wondered how it hadn’t already occurred to him. And Shane was clearly flattered to be asked; he put his hands behind his head with a certain jaunt, quirked his eyebrow at Ryan in a way that oozed self-satisfaction. Shane at his most insufferable. Ryan couldn’t believe he was the one inflating his ego like this.

The dreams hadn’t stopped; on the worst nights, he would toss and turn whilst the sound of crackling flames and creaking floorboards plagued his sleep.

Day 506

“PLUNGE US INTO DARKNESS, DEMONS!” Ryan often wondered if he should be unnerved by how much delight Shane took in the haunted places. Nobody else seemed to find it concerning.

Sometimes, on location, he would see Shane staring into the darkness with just an edge of ferocity in his smile, transforming his harmless smirk into something weirdly resentful. He only managed to catch that look on camera once, and he spent about two days zooming in and out and examining it, and he hadn't shown it to anyone else.

“We're a package deal, Ryan and me.” The look of utter delight on Shane’s face, somehow warm even in the white torchlight, made him forget all of it.

Day 508

“I’ll be your co-host,” Shane said, and his heart leapt when Ryan’s face lit up.

“You would? That would be amazing,” Ryan said, and Shane leaned back in his chair with a practiced air of nonchalance.

“Yeah, you know I don’t believe in any of that shit,” He said, very casually for someone who’d carefully influenced Brent into taking on too many projects, and then into dropping Unsolved, and then hung around Ryan looking not-busy for the two days it took the man to ask him.

“Just you wait, dude,” Ryan said, draining his coffee and practically slam-dunking the mug into the sink. “By the time I’m done with you, you’ll believe Avril Lavigne’s clone did 9/11.”

Day 522

Ryan’s eyes were so wide they might have fallen out of his head. Shane wondered what he’d do in that scenario – call an ambulance? Try and shove them back in? He smirked at the thought, and Ryan caught it. His shoulders loosened.

“What you thinking about, big guy?”

What I would do if your eyes suddenly fell out your head. Couldn’t say that. That was a strange thing to say. His first few days as a 21st century human had earned him a couple of bemused glances, before he worked out where the line between funny and macabre was. Even now, he said things that some people thought were odd.

“I was thinking about hotdogs,” Shane said instead, and Ryan rolled his eyes.

“Aren’t you even a little bit scared? This place is a hellhole!”

Shane wasn’t scared. Anything dead in the places they visited scattered when they felt him approaching. He was older than America itself by at least a couple of centuries; nothing that had died there could hope to harm him.

“There’s nothing here to be afraid of,” Shane grinned cockily, and relished Ryan’s grin in response.

"Asdhjsdhfdsj - GET OUT - asghhjaskjfdhs" the spirit box stuttered and spat its warnings, and Shane glared at the ghost that was getting a little too concerned for Ryan's welfare. Demons hanging out with humans were none of the dead's business, especially when the dead knew the demon could snuff them into oblivion with a hand-wave. Fucking ghosts.

Day 546

Shane was…unenthusiastic.

“Come on, Ryan.” He said, shifting from one foot to another outside the church. “Whatever this exorcist guy tells you, it’s gonna be hogwash.”

“Hogwash?” Ryan wheezed.

“Bullshit.” Shane amended, but he didn’t look any less nervous. The bright sunlight highlighted the ends of his hair and shadowed half of his face in a strange contrast. Slouched over shoulders in a jean jacket, wild hair, and he'd never looked both more human and less understandable.

“Are you – I mean – are you religious?” Ryan asked, carefully. Theirs wasn’t an asking-questions kind of friendship. It was more an eating-popcorn-and-sarcasm kind, really, but sometimes Ryan wished it was more of the former.

“No,” Shane said, and flashed him a quick smile. It was missing its usual crinkling eyes and white teeth; it unnerved Ryan, somehow. “Just associate church with some…bad memories.”

Now, that could mean fucking - anything. Ryan definitely didn’t want to pry, but he also desperately wanted to know what could have his friend so worked up.

A small part of him was horribly aware that Shane held something back from him. Whilst it was hard to call their weird amalgamation of drinking too much, eating popcorn, arguing, bad jokes, and generally being just a little too into each other to make other people strictly comfortable "friendship", the things Shane kept from him was the final divide between them. Ryan didn't know how to cross it. Or if he even wanted to.

Day 547

Shane liked to take photographs. When he’d last ventured into the mortal world, in 1907, they’d seemed like a useful way to remember things, but too clunky to be totally convenient. He’d kept relying on his journal.

In 2017, though, he could take a photograph of literally everyone he met and remember what they looked like forever. He could plaster his desk in photographs of Ryan, and Sara, and Jen, and all his mortal friends, and spend all day looking at them, and nobody thought it was strange.

He could film people and remember not only what they looked like, but how they spoke and moved and laughed. Computers didn’t become fuzzy and faded over time. If he’d known, he would have come back sooner; he’d been missing out.

He wasn’t adrift, a vague amalgamation of tattered memories and apathy and shadow. He had roots, he had friends. He didn’t need to remember anything beyond 2015; it had all been a pale imitation of a life, anyway. Los Angeles in the 21st century, with Ryan, was bright and immediate and real.

Day 552

“Don’t you ever think that there might be something waiting for us after we die?” Ryan asked, his wide grin undermining the harshness of the question. Shane was sitting across from him, leaning back in his chair, the remnants of two tacos scattered in front of him – the guy ate an unreasonable amount for someone so skinny.

“No, Ryan. I don’t.” There was something behind his eyes, more than the usual twinkle of delight at teasing Ryan. A knowing, or a wanting. Ryan didn’t know.

“So, you’re not – what if you came back as a ghost? Then you’d have to admit you were wrong,” Ryan said.

“I’m not going to come back as a ghost,” Shane replied, confidently.

“But let’s just say you did. Hypothetically. You get hit by a car, tomorrow, downtown, and – and there you are, floating over your own body.” When he mentioned the car, Shane’s hand twitched and nearly knocked his fork off the table.

“If that happens,” Shane said, picking the fork up in a large hand and using it to emphasise his point, “then I will say ‘golly gosh gee, Ryan Bergara was right’” – he put on a stupid voice that he knew would infuriate Ryan – “and I will follow you back to your apartment to haunt you until you lost your mind.”

“Wow, what – what did I do to deserve that?” Ryan stifled his laughter.

“I’m just joshing ya,” Shane fiddled with the fork. “Nobody deserves me for all eternity.”

“Don’t get yourself down like that, dude,” Ryan said, trying to swing the conversation off this sudden course towards darkness. “I would – I’d be fine, if you haunted me. Wait, that would mean you were dead though. And I’d miss you if you were dead.” This was word-vomit. He wasn't sure how to stop.

“Ryan,” Shane said, and shook his head.

“If I was a ghost, I’d haunt you.” Ryan declared, trying desperately to get rid of the lung-puncturing look of resignation in Shane’s eyes. “We can make one of those pacts people make, you know – if they’re still single when they’re forty, they’ll get married. If either of us die, we have to haunt the other.”

“Is this a pinky promise?” Shane said dryly, but there was the hint of a smile lingering at the corner of his mouth, and Ryan finally let out a relieved laugh.

Ryan dreamed of maniacal laughter, of blood and candlelight and Shane’s dark eyes.

Day 554

“Oh, fucking Jesus Christ on a stick-”

Heart thumping, he leapt away from the dark corridor where Shane loomed. “What in the name of God above are you doing?” Ryan demanded. Shane had to hunch over to fit in the labyrinth, the tall fucker.

“My mic cut out,” Shane shrugged, supremely unconcerned. “I was just checking the place out.” His dark eyes were utterly guileless.

Ryan was pretty fucking certain that Shane hadn’t been there a moment ago. But that was a ridiculous thought, and not worth entertaining.

Day 589

He didn't think Ryan was attracted to this vessel. Not that Shane Madej wasn’t attractive, but it looked like Ryan only liked women. And it was too late to change now; he knew the finger bones of this body too intimately, wasn’t irritated by the rush of blood in his ears. He ran his hands through his hair as a matter of habit, he felt every crinkle in the corner of his eyes as he smiled. Too late to change now. And besides, Shane was Ryan’s best friend. If he were to suddenly collapse, an empty shell devoid of a driving force, Ryan would be devastated.

Day 589

Even if Ryan was attracted to his vessel, someone like him didn't really deserve it. It wasn't like Shane could offer the kind of love Ryan would get with another human; just a paltry, half-understood version, watered down by centuries of existence. Love was something for humans to conceive of.

Day 599

Ryan knew Shane pretty well. Okay, maybe not knew – he still wasn’t sure where he went to college, or if he liked his parents, or what he was even doing at Buzzfeed – but he understood him. He got Shane. Shane liked eating, and good comedy, and bears. Shane made fun of him for everything right up to the point where Ryan couldn’t take it, and then knew when to back off. Shane believed in what was in front of him, and didn’t care for anything beyond that. Shane had terrible posture and unco-operative hair, and a freckle in the corner of his left eye.

Shane’s apartment was pretty...minimalist. He drank coffee endlessly and never seemed to get coffee jitters. He stared into dark corners like he was watching something. Shane laughed at everything that made Ryan scream, without question. Shane liked to antagonise ghosts. Shane had a black leather notebook, a journal, which he took with him everywhere - but he never wrote in it, or mentioned it to Ryan.

It was pretty easy to make Shane laugh – the real, face-scrunching, mouth-open, gut-hurting laugh. But Ryan was the only one who could produce the soft, introspective smile, usually accompanied by a quirked eyebrow or a pointing finger. It was…nice.

Ryan dreamt of Shane's voice in the darkness; the sounds of the forest and the shadows of trees in the night, a circle of salt still unbroken. Maybe it was a warning. Maybe he needed to see a psychiatrist.

Day 634

A pigeon erupted out of the stairwell, and Ryan screamed. A torch flashed on and Ryan screamed. Something scuttled in the dark, and Ryan screamed. Shane remembered the young man who’d yelled his way through the house that had held an ancient being refuge for centuries, and knew he could never tell him the truth.

 

Day 670

He wasn’t sure how they managed it, but they worked: one cowardly mess with a height complex and one tall sceptic, who was possibly a demon. Those theories usually made Ryan laugh, unless he saw them after 11pm, in which case they usually stopped him sleeping. That was a ridiculous thought. Not worth entertaining.

Day 688

“What do you think of theories that Shane might be a demon?” Ryan read aloud, a wide smile on his face, waiting in anticipation for Shane’s reply.

“Finally, people are starting to notice these ‘ancient malevolent spirit’ vibes I’ve been giving out,” Shane said, and Ryan giggled.

Two years, and he knew Ryan inside and out: a soul that pulsed with mirth and sincerity and warmth, in a way that made the shadows inside him reach to be consumed by the light. It hadn’t taken long to stop noticing people’s souls and focus on their faces – these humans liked it when you made eye contact – but Ryan’s soul distracted him, all the time. If Ryan could see the blackness that lay inside Shane, it would all have been for nothing.

He wrote it down in his book, and he kept the book with him at all times. If Ryan noticed it, he didn't comment.

Day 639

Ryan flopped on Shane’s sofa, and lay his head back to look at the ceiling. There was a water stain on it.

“Your apartment is a bit of a crap-hole, dude.” Ryan said. “Wait, shit, that was rude, sorry.”

“It’s cool,” Shane said. Ryan was still staring at the ceiling, but he could hear the shrug in his words. “It’s not like I spend much time here.”

Ryan finally swivelled his head around to look at Shane. “What am I doing here, again?”

“You’re kind of out of it, bud.” Shane said, collapsing on the sofa next to him and throwing his long arms in all directions . “You consumed a lot of the drink-”

The drink?” Ryan spluttered.

“-so you can stay here tonight.” Shane ignored him. “I’ll make up the couch. When I find the energy.” Shane was a good friend, really. When he felt like doing more than the bare minimum.

Ryan laughed, even though it wasn’t that funny – it was just that kind of night. And just that kind of tequila. God, he was going to be so hungover.

Shane was staring at him again, at his chest, like he was looking straight through him.

“Hey, big guy.” Ryan said, and Shane’s eyes snapped back to his. “My eyes are up here.”

“Your third eye is down there,” Shane said, and gestured vaguely to his chest, and they both collapsed into giggles. Ryan knew, a niggling in the back of his mind told him, that what they hadn't wasn't strictly friendship. They meshed together too well; Ryan was the only one who would laugh at Shane's weird jokes, Shane was the only one willing to follow Ryan into abandoned houses in search of ghosts. None of Ryan's other friends left him feeling cold inside, when he reached out, and could feel something blocking the way - a secret, a doubt, maybe an imagining. Shane was somehow simultaneously the person he knew best in LA and a total enigma, and it was wearing on him.

Day 689

It was one of those nights. The nice kind, where you feel more connected to your friends than usual, and the night feels like it has more potential than usual, and everything is funny.

Shane’s hair was wild, like his eyes, and Ryan wanted to run his hands through it. Ugh, he’d had too much to drink; he knew that that last shot had been a mistake. The streetlight was so orange.

But the night had potential , so it didn’t matter.

“Are you warm enough?” Shane asked, and Ryan snapped back into the moment, instead of that drunk, hazy dream state.

“I’m fine, dude.” And he was, even though he was just in a t-shirt, because it was Los Angeles and he’d had four shots of tequila. “We should – Jesus, what time is it?”

“1.38 precisely.” Shane tapped his watch and winked, sloppily.

“AM?”

“No, Ryan, it’s the afternoon. It’s just dark. The world is ending!” Shane threw his arms in the air to punctuate his point.

“Alright, dick,” Ryan giggled. “Hey, where are we going?”

“I’m going back to my apartment,” Shane said. “You just followed me out of the bar when I left.”

“Oh, shit.” Ryan whistled (failed to whistle), “I guess I should head home too.”

“Time is a human construct, when you really think about it,” Shane said, thoughtfully.

“Doesn’t mean I’m not tired,” Ryan muttered. They shared an Uber, and when Ryan nearly passed out in the back seat, Shane dragged him up the stairs to his apartment and shoved him inside. He was a good friend. He didn’t have a television.

“You don’t – you don’t have a television,” Ryan mumbled.

“I don’t watch it,” Shane shrugged. Ryan could feel the push and pull of the tide in his chest, dragging him towards Shane and then back again, battering him to the sea floor and shoving him back towards the surface, where he gasped desperately for air - wait, no. He was just drunk.

Day 689

Shane took the glass of water through to the living room and shoved it under Ryan’s nose. His eyes were closed, and they stayed closed until Shane poked his cheek.

“Drink up, Bergara.” He said, and he wondered if Ryan’s hand had maybe lingered on his as he took the glass. It was a weird night, even for a demon; everything had seemed too loud, and too close, and he wondered if this was what getting drunk felt like for humans.

“M’ fine,” Ryan mumbled, and his head lolled again.

“For the love of-” Shane flopped down on the sofa next to him and pushed the water towards Ryan’s face. Ryan drank, obediently, and then glanced at Shane awkwardly, and Shane realised he had left his hand resting on the nape of Ryan’s neck. His decision-making faculties felt impaired.

“Shane,” Ryan whispered, the water forgotten. Shane was sitting awkwardly, angled towards Ryan with one hand on the back of the sofa and one leg folded uncomfortably beneath him. Ryan was facing ahead, but he had his head cricked round to stare up at Shane.

“Ryan,” Shane said, smiling crookedly. “Are you even going to remember this tomorrow morning?”

“Probably not,” Ryan croaked. “Why?”

Shane took his hand away and ran it through his hair – a nervous habit he’d acquired, over the last two years.

“Shane?” Ryan whispered again, shifting around to face him proper, leaning forward hazily.

“You’re drunk,” Shane muttered. “I think I’m in love with you.”

Ryan smiled – the wide, open, grin that had fascinated Shane from day one – but his head was drooping, and next thing Shane knew, the other man was asleep. He sighed, hauling himself to his feet and fetching the blanket off his bed. It wasn't like Shane was going to sleep under it.

He stayed there, while the human slept, reading through his notebook and waiting for the first rays of the sun to break through the window.

Day 689

Ryan woke up the next morning to the smell of cooking eggs, and a low humming coming from the kitchen. He was…this was Shane’s apartment. There was no television; Shane didn’t have a television, the weirdo.

He lifted his head - fuck, his neck, what the fuck – and startled when a duvet slithered from around his shoulders. He looked around with bleary eyes, and the first thing that caught his eye was the black leather notebook sitting on the coffee table. It was old, battered, and Ryan hesitated in reaching for it-

“You awake, Ry?” Shane’s voice echoed from the kitchen, and Ryan jumped again. There was an ache firmly lodged behind his eyes that intensified when he moved too quickly.

“Barely,” He rasped, struggling to his feet and feeling the joints crack in his shoulders.

“Oh dear,” Shane chuckled, and he appeared in the doorway with his glasses perched on his long nose and a tea-towel slung over his shoulder like he was fucking – Gordon Ramsey or something. “You want breakfast?”

“I could do with a litre of coffee,” Ryan grumbled, hobbling through to the kitchen, where Shane thrust a steaming mug under his nose with a wink. “How are you just fine?!”

“I didn’t over-do it,” Shane said, stirring the eggs smugly. “Do you even remember anything?”

“I remember getting in an Uber with you, and then…” Ryan pinched the bridge of his nose in an effort to stem the pain. “Whose idea was the tequila?”

“I think it was probably yours. From having a bagel to hunting a demon, having a fourth shot of tequila is pretty up there on the Bergara Bad Ideas Scale.”

“Shut up, Shane.” Ryan said, and Shane heaped eggs onto the plate in front of him and shoved the mug of coffee closer again. Despite the pounding in his head, the sun was shining through the dusty windows in the kitchen, highlighting the warm undertones in the backs of his hands and the hollows in Shane's neck.

“Drink up, Bergara,” He sang, and Ryan froze. The coffee sloshed in the mug, halfway to his lips, and landed on the eggs. “Ryan?”

A sense-memory, or maybe just an imagining - a large hand on the back of his neck, laughter, a low voice saying "I think I'm in love with you."

"You really are out of it," Shane snorted. "Anyone home?" Ryan jolted back into awareness, and busied himself with the now-coffee-flavoured eggs.

"My head hurts," He said, the perfect excuse for staring into space. He must have been imagining it; you dream weird things when you're drunk. Like your best friend telling you he's in love with you.

The kitchen darkened, and Shane knew it was more to do with the secrets he kept than any lack of sunshine - this was California, after all. But he couldn't do it.

Day 689

“What’s on your mind, big guy?” Ryan swung round in his chair to face him.

The year 1907, and the last time I possessed a human, is what was on his mind, but of course, he couldn’t say it aloud.

“Do you want to get a drink tonight?” He said instead, tripping slightly over his words. He wanted so badly for Ryan to spend time with him.

“Yeah, I think some of the guys are gonna hit a bar. We could tag along,” Ryan twirled a pen absent-mindedly between his fingers. Shane wanted to scoff, demand that Ryan ignore them in favour of him, but that would have driven him away.

Day 700

Shane Madej had stopped being a vessel for a demon; he was 6’4”, he was from Chicago, he was a film-maker, he was in love with Ryan. Fuck, that last one shouldn’t have been there.

Day 700

"Goatman! They're going to put my name in graffiti! Children will come here and tell tales of me!" Sometimes, Shane walked the line between "nothing to see here except humanity!" and "demonic" pretty fucking nimbly. It was mostly to make Ryan laugh; and Ryan did laugh, in that gasping, gulping way that came from a healthy dose of fear.

The Goatman watched, warily, no match for Shane. And Shane smirked at the dark forest, to hide his resentment of the black and how it kept him from Ryan.

"Is there anybody here with me right now?"

"The devil!" Pretty fucking nimble indeed.

Day 700

The Alton Bridge was a strange case of cognitive dissonance for Ryan. He remembered it very clearly; a contradiction between the warm Southern night and the chills running down his spine, Shane’s sleeves rolled up to his elbows, the ambient noises of the forest. He wasn’t necessarily afraid, but he was anticipating something big.

Last night, his bad dreams had peaked, an intense slideshow of fire and laughter and a low voice talking unintelligibly. He’d put it down to nerves over filming a demon episode the next day.

When he first set foot on the bridge and felt the old wood creak beneath his feet, he’d had a weird sense of déjà vu sweep over him. Something about the trees was familiar to him, but he couldn’t put his finger on how, or why. This was gonna be a good shoot, though. There was a lot of…atmosphere.

Shane was in a fine mood. “Goatman! I disrespect your bridge!” The forest suited him; he seemed more upright, more irreverent than usual. Occasionally, Ryan caught him staring over the edge of the bridge into the forest with that resentful twist to his mouth, but he was so used to that by now he barely worried about it. His friend envied the dark, for whatever fucking reason, or Ryan was imagining things.

He lit candles (for the aesthetic, shut up Shane), and placed them in a circle with the cameras, before producing the Ouija board and watching Shane’s face curl into a slow smirk.

Day 700

Shane had been pushing the boundaries all night - “if you want me off your bridge, you’re gonna have to throw me off!” – but it felt good to let loose a little sometimes. Something about the dark forest made the demon-ness inside him quicken ; he wanted to yell, to cast the camera aside and plunge into the woods and feel the moonlight on his skin - his vessel’s skin, he didn’t have skin. But yeah, shadows and trees were demon nip, blah blah blah. It was intoxicating.

And he thought Ryan felt it too, because the younger man was unusually confident for taking on a demon. Air quotes on “demon”, because the Goatman was a pathetic excuse for a servant of the Underworld, and the kind of entity Shane would have crushed under his boot a couple of centuries ago. True, he had been letting the darkness in him fester and fade, spending all his time with a human with a soul like sunshine, but he was still better than the Goatman could ever hope to be. There was no danger here.

Not that Ryan needed to know that there was no danger here, because just the notion that there could have been danger was enough to implode his mind. Yikes.

When Ryan produced the Ouija board, he almost snorted with derision. It wasn’t going to work. When Ryan produced the salt, he tried very hard to keep his look of casual nonchalance. He won’t do it, chill out . Ryan bent over and began pouring the salt in a circle. Okay, he won’t do it right. He finished the circle, and Shane felt the power of the forest drain from the ends of his limbs. Shit.

Day 700

Ryan couldn’t take his eyes from Shane’s large hands, moving the planchette across the board. Nothing was happening, even as the birds chirped in the trees and the trees sighed. Shane went from sitting to lounging to kneeling, and when Ryan said “you know what? I’ll throw myself in there as well,” Shane looked up at him with such delight that Ryan was weirdly compelled to throw the board over the side of the bridge and say fuck it all.

He resisted, barely, and they blew the candles out one by one. The night lost a little of its magic, but not all, and Ryan was happy . He remembered that very clearly. He’d felt closer to Shane than he ever had before; like the unspoken divide between them had vanished, for one night.

The cameraman gave them a thumbs-up, and said he’d meet them back at the hotel. Something about bugs, Ryan wasn’t paying attention. When he finally hauled himself to his feet and stepped over the salt circle to fiddle with the cameras, Shane stayed sitting.

“You gonna help me with this camera, big guy?” Ryan said, smiling down at the equipment. Shane didn’t answer, and Ryan turned to face him. “Shane? What are you doing?”

Shane was sitting cross-legged, still within the circle of dark candles. “You gotta do one last thing to finish the ritual, Ry.” He was staring into the forest.

“What’s that?”

“Break the salt circle,” Shane said, turning his head to look him right in the eye. A bird flew out of the trees overhead, screaming.

Day 700

“…what?”

“You have to break the salt circle, Ryan.” Shane said, staring him straight in the eye without blinking.

“W-why?” Ryan’s hand clenched around the camera lens; the sounds of the forest had gone quiet.

“Why not?” Shane shrugged, but his face was carefully blank. Ryan fumbled for his torch and shone it towards him.

“Dude, stop fucking around and help me with these cameras.” The potential of the night had gone sour, somehow. The cold torchlight was a poor substitute for the flickering candlelight that had made Ryan feel so warm and close.

“Not until you break the circle.” Shane insisted. Ryan was starting to sweat, and not just because it was a warm night.

“The cameras are off, Shane, you don’t need to do another bit,” He snapped, and Shane chuckled softly.

“Look, Bergara, just break the salt circle and don’t ask questions.” Shane said.

“But I am,” Ryan said, trying not to let his voice shake. “I’m - I'm asking questions.”

Shane scrubbed his hands across his face and through his hair, face bleak in the white light. “Come on, Ryan. We were doing so well. We were – we were having a good time! Do you really want to ruin that?” Any sense of warmth or adventure that had been present before had gone, drained away in the shadows and the rush of the river below.

“What’s your deal, dude?” Ryan demanded. Shane sighed, and looked down, and when he looked up again his eyes were entirely black.

Ryan stumbled backwards and fell, one hand clenching around the lens instinctively and the other dropping the torch, which bounced on the wooden boards and rolled. Ryan heard a splash in the darkness.

“Ryan?” The voice emanated from the dark where Shane had been, and Ryan held a hand out.

“Stay back,” He stammered. “I don’t – stay away from me.”

“I’m trapped in the circle, Ryan,” Shane said, annoyed. “Look, please just-”

“What did you do with Shane?” Ryan cried, scrambling to his feet. “What – what are you?! What the actual fuck-”

“Will you chill out?” Shane said, and there was a rustling, and then his torch illuminated the iron railings. He swung it directly into Ryan’s eyes, and he cursed.

“Fuck off, dude, I don’t – is this some kind of awful joke?” Ryan said, pressing his hands to his forehead like he could physically hold back his fear. “It’s not even remotely funny.”

Shane flicked his torch back to his face, with the familiar crooked smile, and those awful black pits where warm, dark eyes should be.

Day 700

Ryan fumbled for the pistol full of holy water and squirted Shane straight in the jaw. There was a sizzling, and Shane felt a sharp pain in his cheek. He fell backwards, clutching at his burnt face.

“What the fuck, Ryan?! Did I really deserve that?!” Where had the night gone wrong, Shane wondered. They’d been having a good time. Ryan hadn’t been afraid, for two fucking seconds Shane had thought maybe he could make it work-

“What have you done with Shane?" Ryan demanded, in a trembling voice. “You – give him back.”

“I can’t give him back, I am him.” Shane struggled back to a sitting position, the salt circle and the holy water making his bones heavy and his thoughts sluggish. He grabbed the torch and threw it to his friend. “Look, look at me-”

“Give him back!” Ryan insisted, holding the torch like he was ready to bean someone with it, and the demon’s mouth twisted.

“You want him back?” He said, coldly. “Fine.”

There was a whooshing of shadow, and the demon left its vessel for the first time in two years. It leapt into the night air, letting the darkness of its being unfurl and stretch. It felt good, he supposed, but it wasn’t even remotely worth it. He hadn’t realised how much noise he’d gotten used to; the creak of joints, the beating heart. It was all silent now; even the sounds of rustling coming from the forest had gone, driven away by the demon showing its true form.

The body of Shane Madej fell to the bridge with a thump, devoid of any living intent. Ryan had been flicking the torch around frantically, trying to see what was whispering in the night air around him. When he heard the noise, he pointed the torch at the circle, and saw long limbs sprawled lifelessly, brown eyes empty and glassy, and he started screaming.

You see, Ryan? the demon thought. It’s just a fucking disguise.

The demon had known this was what would happen. He could smell the fear coming off Ryan in waves. He’d tried so hard to keep him, to be Ryan’s friend without letting him see the worst part of himself. It sighed, and funneled its way back into the body, sitting up and dusting the splinters out of his hands. It had already started to go clammy, for the 98 seconds he had been gone, and he shook the feeling back into the ends of his fingertips.

“Do you see?” He asked quietly, and then repeated it louder when Ryan didn’t hear it over the yelling. “You only ever knew the demon.”

Ryan finally quieted, staring at him with eyes so wide Shane could see the whites glowing through the darkness. His shirt was covered in dust and dirt. Everything was ruined.

“I’m fucking – I’m getting out of here,” Ryan gasped, and he clambered to his feet ungracefully before disappearing into the darkness, leaving the cameras and Shane behind. He heard a door slam, and an engine start, and Ryan left the demon trapped on the bridge, alone.

 Day 701

He scrambled through the silent forest, stumbling over the gravel path, until the trees finally opened out to reveal the car. He scrabbled for the door handle, and remembered a white hand lying slack and lifeless on wooden boards, and was violently ill into the grass. The night was quiet apart from his retching pathetically onto the verge.

He didn’t know what he was supposed to do. Something – evil? – resided in the body of his best friend, and it wasn’t like he could call the fucking police. An exorcist? Fuck.

Ryan lay awake, all night, clutching his gun full of holy water to his chest and trembling. He jumped at footsteps on the landing outside his motel room. Every time he closed his eyes, he saw shadows swirling in white torch-light, dark water, brown eyes with nothing behind them anymore, oh fuck, Shane-

When the light finally broke, he got back in the car, with eyes blood-shot and jaw stubbled from the sleepless night. He drove back to the Alton Bridge with his jaw set and the water pistol tucked into the waistband of his jeans. He’d abandoned the holster; it was something purely intended to make Shane laugh, and that made his throat close up.

The car crunched on the gravel at the top of the path, and the forest seemed far more mundane in the grey light of the morning. Less claustrophobic, but also more conceivable.

The sound of the river announced the bridge, and when he broke the tree line he saw Shane sitting cross-legged, his black leather notebook open on his lap. When Ryan deliberately stepped heavy on the path, he looked up, and when he spotted him he scrambled to his feet.

“You came back,” He said, when Ryan reached the foot of the stairs.

“Did you think I was going to leave you here?” Ryan scuffed at the dirt with one foot and didn’t look at him. He could feel the water pistol digging into his thigh. It was cold, and he had forgotten a jacket.

“Yeah,” Shane mumbles, twisting the bottom of his shirt in his hands. “I – I wouldn’t be surprised if you thought I deserved it.”

They stand there, in silence, for a long time. There was a rustling in the bushes, and Ryan started, but it was nothing. There was nothing out there; the danger was here, on the bridge. The sunlight was weak and thin, a poor comparison to the warm candlelight from the previous night.

“You made fun of me for believing in ghosts for over a year, and you - you were a fucking demon this entire time?” Ryan finally burst out, and Shane stared at him.

“That’s what you’re angry about?” He asked. He cocked his head to the side in a way that was mildly uncanny, and Ryan realised how many of his friend’s mannerisms that he’d learned to overlook were strange now.

“Oh no, there’s more,” Ryan started to pace up and down. “But that’s the main thing. You watched me bust my ass looking for proof of ghosts, and you didn’t think at any point to say ‘oh by the way Ryan, I’m a supernatural creature! You were right!’”

“How in fuck’s name was I supposed to tell you that?” Shane complained. “How do you tell anyone you’re a demon?”

“How do you – so you are a demon?” Ryan demanded.

“I guess that’s the word for it,” Shane said, taking his seat on the bridge with crossed legs. “Entity, spirit, creature. I am what I am.”

“This is all some terrible dream,” Ryan muttered, tugging at his hair frantically. “I’m going to wake up tomorrow and Shane will be back.”

“I am Shane-” He said, with mild irritation.

“No.” Ryan interrupted, pointing an accusing finger at him. “You are not him. You’re – something else.”

Shane only shrugged, looking down at his hands clasped in his lap. Ryan watched him, breathing heavily. It looked like Shane, from the haircut and the long arms down to the worn boots. He was so confused.

“Are ghosts real?” He finally asked. Shane raised a hand and pinched the bridge of his nose in a gesture that was so inherently human it made Ryan’s stomach burn.

“Yeah,” He said, after a long pause. “Ghosts are real. Sometimes.”

“You lied to me,” Ryan said, and shook his head like he could free it of the cobwebs. “You lied and lied.”

“I did what I had to do,” Shane said, mouth set in a grim line. “If I’d had my way, you’d never have known.”

The back of his neck was sweating, despite the morning chill. There was only one question left, really.

“Why?”

“Do you remember going to San Diego in 2014?” Shane asked, hands twisting in his shirt again. “The haunted house?”

“The night before I interviewed for Buzzfeed.”

“I was the thing haunting the house.” Shane admitted. A cloud passed over the weak sun, and Ryan shivered.

“You – you followed me back to Los Angeles?” He asked. His arms had crept around his ribcage and he clutched them to himself like he was about to fall apart.

“Don’t flatter yourself,” Shane scoffed. “I didn’t – okay, I guess I left the attic because I was interested in you, but I was getting bored anyway. It could have been anyone. Anyone.” His eyes flicked from brown to black and back again as he spoke, like he was agitated.

“I don’t fucking believe this,” Ryan muttered, wiping his hand across his forehead. His stomach with roiling with a vague, conflict-induced nausea. “Any other secrets to tell me, whilst you’re at it? Is Jen actually a witch? Werewolves are real?”

“I’m sort of in love with you,” Shane confessed, and wasn’t that just the final fucking nail in Ryan’s coffin. “Only a little bit. Well, a lot, for a demon.”

Ryan swayed, the crunch of the gravel below his feet the only thing keeping him from falling on his face. He knew he hadn’t imagined it, that night in Shane’s apartment. He’d thought he was going insane.

Eventually he convinced one foot to move, and then the other, and he stepped up onto the bridge. Shane watched him approach with carefully blank eyes. He kicked away a bit of the salt, praying he wasn’t making a terrible mistake, and stepped back again with hands shoved deep into his pockets.

“I’m going to drive back to Los Angeles. Alone.” He said, in a low, croaking voice that he didn’t recognise as his own. “I don’t want to see you again.”

“Ryan, please-” The demon said, scrambling to his feet, but Ryan turned and walked away.

As the bridge vanished behind the trees, he was vaguely aware of Shane throwing his book to the wooden planks at his feet and cursing wildly. A terrible, inhuman screeching echoed through the forest, making Ryan pause and birds scatter into the sky..

Day 702

After he’d snuffed the Goatman into oblivion, in an uncharacteristic fit of rage, Shane had stormed after Ryan, determined to convince him to see sense. He was gone, of course, and Shane had to walk back to the nearest bus station. It was a long way, even for an entity that couldn’t get sore feet. He could have abandoned the vessel and gone anywhere – it wasn’t like he had any pretenses left to keep up - but something stopped him. Maybe it felt like penance, having to heave this fucking sack of meat with him everywhere.

If Ryan didn’t want to see him again, he could have his wish. Maybe it was going overboard a little, but he didn’t care – resentment and bitterness boiled at the end of his fingertips, clawed its way up his spine.

He went back to the house in San Diego and clambered into the attic where he’d spent nearly a century. The house had lost its malevolent energy, without him there to maintain it, and it seemed smaller somehow. He knew how it felt; it felt like Ryan had torn any kind of desire for solitude out of him and left him with a yearning for company like some fucking mortal. It had been a long time since he’d swept over the empty plains and left chaos in his wake; now he was content to laugh at Ryan screaming. He missed him. Pathetic, stupid, human feelings.

Day 702

It didn’t fucking matter now, because Shane had driven him away anyway. This was what he got for pretending to be one of them. It had been a waste of time. He should have stayed in the attic, where he couldn’t see any souls that reminded him of sunshine, and he would have still been happy with his own company.

He lay down on his back, and stared at the dusty ceiling, and he tried to remember how he’d detached himself from the flow of time before. His mouth itched to laugh, to mock a smaller, scared figure, and he abandoned the vessel with a screech of vexation.

This was more like it; it was easier to forget when he didn’t have a heart pounding in his ears, or fists to clench in disappointment.

It latched onto the ceiling, and it waited for the desire to feel the light of the sun on his skin to fade. It was only a matter of time.

Day 702

Ryan went back to Los Angeles, and no one commented on the lack of tall idiots following him. It would have been disconcerting, but it mostly just made him sad.

The empty desk blazed in the corner of his eye as he tried to concentrate on his work. He brought up the footage from the weekend, in what was perhaps a subconscious desire to see his friend’s face again, and his mouth fell open in shock. It all had fucking Brent in it.

There he was, holding up the Go Pro, staring into the trees, leaning over the Ouija Board with him. What the fuck?

He clicked through all their previous videos, a little frantic, but they all featured Brent. That vague lisp blared through his headphones, instead of a sarcastic drawl. Ryan couldn’t help but notice that all the view counters were at least half of what they’d been before, if not more.

How the fuck had Shane managed this?

“Hey, bad news, bro.” Someone clapped a hand on his shoulder, and he tore his headphones off in shock.

“What?”

“I heard about Unsolved,” Brent was standing over him, a sympathetic twist to his lips. “It sucks. I know you were really into it.”

“That bastard,” Ryan snarled, and Brent threw his hands up defensively.

“Woah, I know it’s rough, dude, but what are they gonna do? We’re not bringing in views, they had to pull the plug.”

“Sorry, Brent.” Ryan said, clutching at his hair. “I’m just. Upset. Have you seen Shane?”

“Who?”

“Jen,” Ryan amended, and Brent pointed him towards her desk. Shane was nowhere to be found, in the pictures on his desk, on the videos he did, even on Twitter. Jesus Christ.

When he googled Shane Madej, he did find a small article in a newspaper in Chicago, about a man hit by a car. There was a blurry photo of Shane. The guy was apparently in critical condition; the article was from 2014.

He threw his headphones down on the desk and scrubbed his hands across his face. Something was boiling in his stomach – a big ol’ sense that he’d fucked up, somehow.

And he missed Shane.

Day 715

Someone moved onto the desk next to him. He said he didn’t really like popcorn, and Ryan stopped listening after that. He did some stupid video with a taste test, and he played a video game for a camera, and he burned inside.

Day 718

That night, he got in his car and he drove to San Diego.

Day 718

He found the old house, exactly the same as he left it – a moderate suburban dwelling, two stories, with a large front room and shutters on all the windows. The door was hanging off its hinges, and the windows were mostly broken. The sun was setting on San Diego, casting long shadows across the empty doorway. This was one hell of a time to get over his fear of haunted places. Hopefully it would be worth it.

He pushed the front door open with a foreboding creak and stepped inside. He was sure this was the place. A staircase rose into darkness in front of him, with a broken bannister, and rubble lay haphazardly around the hallway. Paint flaked off the walls and dust rose from the deflated couch in the centre of the room.

“Shane? Are you here?”

Nothing.

“Come on, dude. I drove all way out here.” A draught blew through a broken window , and his shoulders shivered under his jean jacket. The air outside was warm, despite the encroaching dark, but somehow there was a chill inside the house. Maybe he was imagining it.

One by one in quick succession, all the shutters on the window slammed closed, plunging Ryan into darkness. The door creaked open behind him of its own accord, spilling orange streetlight and the fading daylight into the front room.

“This isn’t funny,” Ryan said, trying to keep the shake from his voice. “I want to talk!” He felt his way through the darkness towards where he knew the stairs was, trying to avoid the debris scattered around the hallway.

A chill wind blew a horrific smell into his face; the smell of death, and rot, and he gagged, covering his face with one sleeve.

“You shouldn’t have come here,” Shane materialised out of the darkness in front of him, barely illuminated by the faint light from outside. Ryan shrieked, scrambled backwards, and tripped over something solid on the floor. He landed on his back with a thump, pain shooting up his spine, baseball cap falling into the dust.

“Leave.” Shane stood over him with white face grimly blank. In the half-light, his long limbs seemed just the wrong side of macabre, his nose casting a shadow across his cheek. Ryan grabbed his hat with sweaty palms and held it up in front of him like it was going to protect him.

“Can’t we just talk?” He asked, rubbing at the back of his head. “You deleted yourself from all the videos, and now Unsolved’s been cancelled.”

“You said you didn’t want to see me again,” Shane said, in a low voice that still carried perfectly across the dark room. His eyes were dark.

“Did you really need to sabotage my show, though?” Ryan demanded, scrambling back to his feet. “Was that necessary?”

Shane crossed the room in two long strides, grabbing him by the elbow and leaning over him in black-eyed rage. “You got what you asked for, Ryan. You weren’t going to see me again, so what are you doing here?” He demanded. His face was contorted with anger, and bitterness, almost beyond recognition.

“Let go of me,” Ryan struggled to escape his grip. A chill was spreading up his arm from where Shane gripped it.

“What the hell else do you want from me?” Shane asked, leaning down to glare at him.

“You – you’re scaring me,” Ryan stammered, Shane’s hand digging into his arm painfully.

“You should be scared,” Shane snarled, letting his eyes flicker excruciating black and finally Ryan tore his arm out of his grasp and flung himself out the door onto the sidewalk, panting with fear. He fell to his knees, gasping, and stayed there until his heart stopped racing. When he could finally feel the wet grass soaking through the knees of his jeans, he hauled himself back to his feet, and cautiously approached the house again.

“Look, Shane, I don’t care about your issues.” He called, sounding a lot fucking braver than he felt. “I have shit to say.”

No response. The house creaked, and Ryan had to physically stop himself from running out again.

“I’m not saying my anger wasn’t justified,” He said, scrubbing a hand across his face. “But I – fuck – I want my best friend back. I miss him.”

Still no answer, but he wondered if the shadows over the hallway didn’t lighten a little.

“I’m not going to be afraid of you. I know you. So – can we talk?” He asked, and Shane was sitting at the bottom of the stairs, long legs propped awkwardly under his chin. The black notebook was lying on the step next to him.

“I didn’t want to lie to you,” He said, staring pensively at the floor. “But it’s not like the subject ever came up organically.”

Ryan gaped at him for a while before getting his shit together. He was suffering from emotional whiplash. “Dude, we literally host a show about ghost-hunting. You must have seen an opportunity.”

“You’d be surprised.”

The light of day had almost faded altogether, and only the streetlight falling through the open windows illuminated the two. Dust motes danced in the slanting shadows, making his nose itch.

“What happened to the guy who – who used live in there?” Ryan made an awkward motion towards his head, and Shane repeated the gesture mockingly.

“I know you saw the article,” He said. “Shane Madej was hit by a car. He was in a coma. He wasn’t going to wake up.”

“Have you always been a demon?” Ryan asked.

“Legend has it that even I was human once,” Shane said, propping his chin on his hand like they were in Starbucks. “I don’t really remember it though. It’s been a very long time. That’s why I try to write stuff down,” He lifted the notebook, old and battered. “So it doesn’t fade.”

Ryan stayed silent for a long time, watching the demon stare awkwardly at the floor with his best friend’s eyes.

“How long have you been in love with me?” Ryan finally broached the subject that had been crawling up his spine all week.

“I don’t know if love is the right word. It’s a very human concept.” Shane was examining his nails like they were talking about the weather.

“Then explain it to me,” Ryan said. His breath was coming fast and harsh, like he’d been running.

Shane finally met his eye, warm brown cutting through the dark and glinting in the streetlight. “You make me want to be human again.”

Ryan didn’t know what to say, how to react to any of this. His hands were clenching and unclenching of their own accord.

“Here,” Shane said, throwing him the notebook. “You can read it, I don’t give a shit. No more secrets.” Ryan caught it automatically, but he didn’t open it.

“Come back to LA.” He said, instead. “Come and be Shane again.”

“I was always Shane,” The demon said. “Well, no. Shane was always the demon. No, Shane was – what I mean to say is, the person you knew as Shane was always me.”

“You were always – that makes no fucking sense.” Ryan said. His best friend was a demon. This was a thing now.

“Guess you have to be an ancient, malevolent entity to get it,” Shane hauled himself to his feet on creaking limbs. “Did you drive here?”

“Yeah, obviously,” Ryan said.

“Can I catch a ride?” Shane asked, walking past him and out the door like they were just on location, like they were going to head back to a hotel room and eat popcorn the way they always did.

“Can’t you like, demon your way back to LA?” Ryan asked, and Shane snorted.

“What do I look like, a bald eagle? Demons gotta drive too.”

So, they drove back to LA, in the dying embers of the day. Ryan could feel those dark eyes burning into the side of his head from the passenger seat, and he said nothing. The notebook lay forgotten in the back.

Day 720

Shane’s stupid sloth face reappeared in all his footage, and Unsolved was uncancelled. The guy who’d taken his desk was hassled away by Shane – “I’m sorry dude, this is my desk. Look, my name is on that sticker. I don’t know, someone obviously messed up. I’ve been on vacation.” – and he retook his seat next to Ryan.

He avoided him. Ryan wondered if maybe he was trying to give him space, or whatever. Did demons understand the concept of space? Was he overthinking this entire goddamn thing?

The notebook lay on his sofa and burned in the corner of his vision, but he didn’t open it. A small part of him wondered if he could pretend like none of this had ever happened. But Shane shoved his headphones in first thing when he arrived at work, and didn’t look him in the eye, and Ryan still missed him.

Everything had been so simple before.

Day 723

He opened the notebook, saw that the first page was in - Aramaic or something, and shut it again.

He still had the dreams, but now they featured Shane with black eyes, Shane lying dead on a bridge in Texas, an abandoned house in San Diego that collapsed around him before he could reach the door.

He noticed all the little things that Shane did that he’d skipped over before in denial, like staring straight through him, or going out into the car park and just standing with his eyes closed and the sun on his face. Everything had changed, and yet nothing at the same time.

He didn’t know where to start, how to cross the bridge and make everything fine again, even when Shane dropped a burrito on his desk without a word and went back to his desk, shoving his headphones in and focusing on his computer. Ryan recognised the offering for what it was - he wasn’t stupid.

“Do you like…eat souls?” He asked, finally breaching the silence between them.

“What? No, Jesus.” Shane scoffed, tearing the headphones out and throwing them on his desk.

“But then…what’s the, the point of demons? What are they for?” Shane hadn’t answered, just stared out the window with a look of utter dismay on his face. Ryan had left him to it, turning back to his work with a seed of maybe it’ll be okay taking root in his chest.

Day 723

“You okay, big guy?”

“I – I don’t know what I’m for .”

“Most people don’t, Shane.”

“I’m not people!”

“You sure?”

Day 723

“Are you avoiding me?”

“No.”

“Shane.”

“I, uh…I figured you were still angry. I mean, you only wanted me to come back so that Unsolved wouldn’t be cancelled. Humans like having, having space, right?”

Humans did like having space. Space wasn’t ever something he’d really had with Shane, though; too fierce, too close to be strictly friendship. Ryan knew that, somewhere deep in the base of his neck and the backs of his hands.

“I’m not mad. I mean…I don’t know. As long as you don’t ever lie to me again, I’m good.”

“Oh, okay. Well, I was the one who broke your headphones. I spilled coffee on them.”

“You – what?! You total - dick , come here-”

“Ow, Ryan-”

Day 723

“Wait, wait, wait – is Bigfoot real?!” Ryan scooted his chair over and practically shook Shane by the shoulder, making him drop his pen with a start and interrupting his dozing.

“What?” Shane grabbed the pen before it could roll off his desk.

“Bigfoot! Real, yes or no?!” Ryan was staring at him with wild eyes, breathing heavily.

“I – I dunno, Ryan,” Shane held his hands up defensively. “I haven’t seen him.”

“Goddamnit!” Ryan shoved his chair away again and went back to his screen, typing angrily and muttering. “What good is a demon for a friend if they haven’t even seen Bigfoot? Ridiculous. Waste of time.”

Day 729

“How did you become a demon?”

“Don’t remember.”

“How did other demons become demons?”

“I’m told you have to sell your soul to the devil. I feel like I’d remember meeting the devil, though.”

“Didn’t you write this stuff down? In your book?”

“Only started writing stuff down in maybe…1545?”

Sometimes Ryan had to take a break from their conversations and come back to asking questions when he felt ready again.

Day 731

Ryan finally found the guts to flick through the notebook, seeing Russian, French, and finally English.

It was mostly just dates and names. Sometimes they were scrawled in ink, sometimes scratched blackly into the page with…Ryan didn’t know. Occasionally there was a place, a description: Elena, Titusville, 1789. The night before they came after you with the pitchforks. Warm, safe.

Towards the end of the book, there was one last date: 1907. Mortals aren’t worth your time; let them all rot in their flesh prisons.

And then in that heavy-handed black scribble, across one whole page: RYAN.

He took a deep breath, flicking over the page, and was startled by a knock at the door.

It was Shane, wearing a green sweater, anxiously hopping from foot to foot, and looking so human it made Ryan want to cough his lungs up. When Shane saw the book in his hand, he stilled.

“I’ve been having these dreams,” He blurted, and Shane raised an eyebrow quizzically.

“Most humans do.”

“Shut the hell up. Bad dreams. Like, about you. I think – some of them had the Goatman’s Bridge in them? Long before we ever went there.”

Shane’s mouth twisted bitterly. “A warning. Probably from the ancestors.”

“You fucking – the ancestors? What is this, Mulan?” Ryan spluttered.

“The dead have too much time on their hands,” Shane muttered. “I could stay here tonight.” Ryan couldn’t deny the frisson of excitement (and fear) that ran down his spine at "the dead." Wait-

“What?”

“I could stay here,” Shane repeated slowly. “That would keep the dreams away.”

“But – you won’t fit on the couch.”

“Ryan, I don’t sleep,” Shane said, exasperatedly shoving past Ryan and flopping down on the sofa. Ryan followed, still clutching the book in his hand. Shane’s eyes flicked down to it briefly and back to him, and Ryan put it down on the side, inexplicably and suddenly awkward. He could hear the sea roaring in his ears, the crash of water on rocks.

He didn’t want to read the damn thing anyway. Shane was right here, and he didn’t need a list of dates that made his blood run cold to understand Shane.

Day 731

He’d managed to put shaving foam on his toothbrush and trip over his jeans, so preoccupied with the thought of the demon sitting in his living room and shovelling popcorn into his mouth. For an ancient malevolent entity, Shane loved snacks.

“Do you even need to eat?” Ryan asked, leaning against the doorframe. Shane looked up, taking in the pyjama bottoms and the glasses with the subtlest flicker of his eyes.

“Nah,” He said, throwing more popcorn down his maw. “I like the taste though. And the crunch. I thought you were going to bed?”

“Whatever, dick,” Ryan muttered, shutting the door behind him. Then he’d opened it again, striding across the room and grabbing the notebook before returning to his room, damned if Shane saw him. Maybe he wanted to understand him a little more.

Day 731

Names, dates, and then RYAN scrawled across two pages. The next page had a date on it – the day in 2014, when Ryan had visited a purportedly haunted house in San Diego, and slept badly, and then attended his first in-person interview with Buzzfeed the next day woozy with sleep deprivation. Just one in a catalogue of poor decisions.

Finally, hand-writing he recognised; Shane’s blocky scratch, dotted here and there across the yellowing paper. Ryan, Ryan. Sunshine. Coffee. Laughing. Remember it, or you really are fucked.

Why am I even still here?

Stop saying weird things to people, you dingus . A diagram of a camera - a Canon 60D - and a web address from Youtube.

Make him smile more often. It’s good.

I picked the wrong vessel. Doodles of pentagrams, and cliché written underneath.

I can’t remember what it was like to be like him, at all. Maybe I never was like him; maybe they’ve all been lying to me.

Tell him, you fucking coward. Just do it.

Ryan snapped the book shut and threw it aside before he could read anymore. Maybe things were simpler than he'd originally thought.

Day 732

He jolted awake at about 1.30am, blearily fumbling for his glasses before he realised that it was Shane, standing at the window and peering through the blinds with black eyes, that had woken him.

He’d lain awake for what felt like hours, words like the dead and crunch and even I was human once echoing in his brain hole. Eventually he must have nodded off, and, true to Shane’s word, he hadn’t dreamed.

“What in the name of fuck are you doing?” He croaked, and Shane let the blinds snap shut, eyes returning to their normal colour. Wait. Not normal colour. Black was their normal colour.

“I thought I saw someone outside,” Shane shrugged, orange streetlight streaking through his hair and heightening the sense that this was all a whack dream. Ryan had been having enough of those lately.

Shane reached out and picked up the note book from where it had been chucked on the floor, and leafed through it.

“Did you read it?” Ryan pretended like it was the casual question Shane meant it to sound like, and ignored the intense vulnerability he could see in his eyes even in the half-dark.

Day 732

“I read a little,” Ryan said, flopping back on his mattress and scrubbing his hands across his face.

“I meant it. No more secrets.”

“Some things are better off inside your head, though. Especially when the head is as big as yours.” The tension was broken by Shane letting out a surprised shout of laughter, both boys giggling in the dark like maniacs. Eventually the laughing died, and the silence stretched like black writing slantways across faded yellow paper.

“Why me?” Ryan asked, staring at the ceiling. “I don’t understand.” It didn’t matter what he said, because this was probably a dream anyway, and he realised that for the first time he completely and totally understood Shane. There was no suspicion, no doubt, no secrets. He knew him.

“I don’t understand either.” Shane said, in a voice that was both soft and rough at the same time, somehow. “It just kinda…happened.”

“Sounds a lot like love to me, bud.”

“I wouldn’t know.” This was…vaguely a lie. Shane had an idea. Shane had felt the warmth of the sun on his face, knew that the prickling in his knuckles was probably something to do with Ryan. He knew what it meant to see the world abruptly explode into colour and noise. He rather thought Ryan heard the half-truth in his voice, because he sat up and looked at him firmly. His hair was sticking every which way.

“Come on, big guy,” He sighed, patting the covers next to him. “Stop – hovering like some weird bird.”

Shane didn’t question it; he kicked his shoes off and sat on the bed, scooching backwards to lean against the headboard, seething with the sense that this was a line crossed.

Ryan turned over and mashed his face into the pillow, head by Shane’s thigh, and went back to sleep. He didn’t dream.

Day 732

Ryan awoke of his own accord, the first rays of the morning sun spilling through the blinds and across the room. The natural sounds of the city, cars honking and faint voices, were filtering through. Something had pulled him from his sleep, something – an alarming rattling noise-

He looked down and realised Shane was lying next to him, over the covers with his jeans still on, face down, snoring. His mouth was hanging open, slack, and he was drooling on the pillow.

“Shane. Dude.” Ryan poked him in the back, and he startled upright, scrambling onto his back and shoving the pillow onto the floor.

“What – what the fuck, it’s – light again, it was night time a minute ago, what did you do-”

“I didn’t do anything,” Ryan said, shoving his glasses on unceremoniously and trying to tell whether Shane’s hair really looked like he’d been dragged through a hedge, or if he was just being short-sighted. It really looked like that. He didn’t understand it. “You were asleep.”

“Asleep?” Shane ran a hand through his hair, agitating it even more.

“Yeah, dude. You woke me up snoring.” Ryan threw the covers aside, and paced through to the bathroom, fumbling for the toothpaste. Shane followed, jumper wrinkled from sleeping on it.

“Ryan, that’s impossible. I don’t – I can’t sleep.” Shane stared at him, wide-eyed. “I haven’t slept in centuries.”

"Well...shit."

Day 736

Ryan woke up in the dark, eyes blinking open to reveal the ceiling. Something had woken him up – there was a shuffling coming from the sitting room-

Quietly, carefully, he crept through and cracked the door open to reveal Shane, sitting on his couch in the dark with a sandwich.

“What the actual fuck, Shane.” He said, throwing the door open. Shane startled and looked up at him like a deer in the headlights, sandwich forgotten. “Is that my food?”

“I don’t keep any food in my apartment,” Shane protested around a mouthful of bread.

“What are you doing here?”

“I – I fell asleep again,” Shane said, swallowing his mouthful and looking down at the floor. “I didn’t know what to do, so I came here, and then I realised you’d be asleep, so I figured I’d just…chill…”

“You didn’t know what to do?” Ryan scrubbed a hand over his face. “What is there to do? Sleeping is normal!”

“I don’t know, I panicked,” Shane said, throwing his hands in the air and getting crumbs everywhere. “I’m sorry, okay! I didn’t mean to wake you up.”

Ryan noticed the way Shane didn’t meet his eyes, and the undercurrent of fear in the words, and sighed. “Come on.”

“I can just stay on the couch, it’s fine,”

“You don’t fit, dumbass. You can sleep with me again, it’s no big deal.”

Day 737

Ryan awoke to the sun spilling across his face, before his alarm went off, and was immediately very aware of the empty patch next to him, still warm. He could hear someone tromping about in the kitchen, hear Shane humming to himself, and felt a gut-punching sense of déjà vu.

At least he wasn’t hungover this time.

He shuffled through, scratching at his chin, and Shane turned to face him. He’d brought his own pyjama pants the night before, still in the plastic from when he’d bought them. He looked soft and unco-ordinated and horribly like something that belonged in Ryan’s apartment (or maybe just Ryan’s life).

Ryan remembered the last time Shane had made him breakfast, felt the sun warming the boards under his bare feet, and his chest loosened a little. Shane wasn’t going to lie to him again.

“I wish I could have known you when I was a human.” Shane said, as Ryan dug into his breakfast.

“Why?” Ryan asked through his mouthful of cereal.

“Because then we could have both just been humans together.” Shane sipped at his coffee, casual as ever.

“When were you human, though? Where?”

“Oh, I don’t remember. At a guess, 14th century. Somewhere in Eastern Europe.”

“Well…I’d rather know the demon and have penicillin than know the human and get the plague.”

And Ryan realised he meant it. He wanted Shane, in all his weird long-limbedness, with his cackling laugh and his odd jokes and the way he stared into dark corners, that soft introverted smile and the way he argued with him about ghosts, and the darkness inside him that he only ever let Ryan see sideways on. Ryan knew it was there, though, and he knew it was part of his best friend. He wanted the guy who would follow him into the dark with only mild grumbling, who looked at him with wide, scared eyes when he thought Ryan wasn’t looking, the guy with the stubbled jaw and the surprisingly charming smile. He didn’t want some medieval stranger.

And he really liked having the internet as well.

Day 753

They went back on location, to a haunted cathedral in Texas. Ryan packed all the equipment into the back of the car with shaking hands and slammed the boot harder than he really needed to. Shane jumped, hitting his head against the ceiling of the car. He was fine. This was fine.

“Texas again,” Shane said, rubbing the back of his head. “Let’s hope it goes better than last time.”

The old church wasn’t quite the San Diego house – or maybe the stakes had just been more personal there, maybe Ryan was biased – but it still creaked ominously in the dusk, still held shadowy corners for something to leap out at him from.

Shane hesitated, bracing himself before stepping over the threshold. It wasn’t that he couldn’t enter holy places – another check in the probably not a demon, probably something else box – but they made his skin feel too tight for his bones, made his neck itch and his hands twitch. It was uncomfortable.

Their footsteps echoed off the high roof, the dying rays of the sun filtering through the stained glass and casting a red glow across Ryan’s skin. It was warm, warm enough for them to forgo jackets. Shane felt something…on the palms of his hands and held them up to his face. They were sweating.

“What are you doing, you weirdo?” Ryan asked.

“My palms are sweating,” Shane said, still staring at his hands.

“Yeah? Mine too, so what?”

“They’ve never done that before,” Shane said, dropping his hands and looking up at him with wide eyes.

Day 753

“If there’s anybody here with us, please make yourself known,” Ryan said, in that low voice that generally meant he was about to leap out of his skin at the slightest provocation.

No answer, as usual. The white torch light glinted off Ryan’s hair, illuminating the dust motes swirling around them. This place was a dump.

“Shane,” Ryan said. “Can you – are there are ghosts here?”

Shane cast his - his - eyes around, finally alighting on Ryan’s shoulders and down his arms to where his hands were shaking. He reached out, almost on instinct and took them in his own. Keeping Ryan’s eyes locked with his, he drew them up and pressed them to his lips until he felt the shaking stop, and he noted the way Ryan inhaled a sharp breath without flinching away.

“Yeah,” Shane said, without dropping Ryan’s hands. “There are ghosts here,” and Ryan’s entire body stiffened.

“Where? Who? Are they – upset? Can we help them?” Ryan’s eyes darted everywhere, a muscle in his neck twitching. Shane had to stifle a laugh; even in the dark, in an ancient haunted cathedral, with a demon, Ryan wanted to help the ghosts.

“Okay,” He murmured, feeling uncomfortably like he was leading Ryan on safari . “Turn around,”

Ryan turned, slowly, warily, and faced the dark. Shane stood behind him, shining the flashlight over his shoulder and talking quietly into his ear. “In that corner there. By the crates. There’s a young woman.”

He could feel Ryan’s intake of breath, felt the way it disturbed the dust around them. “What does she look like?”

“She’s Latina. Sometime in the 20th century, I think. She’s been shot three times in the chest.”

“What’s she doing?”

“Just watching. She’s judging you for hanging out with a demon.”

“Yeah, well, lady, I can think of 600 people I would rather be with right now. And 600 places, too.”

Shane felt the night’s humidity pressing in around them, felt the way Ryan leaned back into his space, and shivered. It wasn’t from the cold.

Day 753

“Can we talk to them?” Ryan grabbed Shane by the elbow, still staring into the corner where the young Mexican woman had been. “Do they know we’re here?”

“You’re gonna absolutely hate this,” Shane said, fiddling with the go pro. “But she might feel like talking if I went outside and you stayed in here. Alone.” She watched them both warily – watched Shane warily, mostly.

“Oh, Jesus Christ.” Ryan said, scrubbing his hand across his face. “No. No, I can’t.”

“Not even to commune with the dead?” Shane waved in an awkward little jazz-hands, and Ryan gave him the finger.

“Alright. Okay. Alright.” Ryan hopped up and down on the spot, like he was trying to shake the fear from the ends of his fingers. “Okay. I can probably do like, five minutes. To commune with the dead.”

“If you’re sure. Hey, if anyone here lays a finger on my friend, they’ll have me to deal with!” Shane’s warning echoed off the high roof, before he waved at Ryan and turned on his heel, leaving him alone in the church.

Outside, he took a deep, shuddering breath, finally free of the weight of the sacrament. The sun was almost gone altogether. Five minutes ticked by exactly before he heard a crashing and Ryan came scrambling out the door, colliding head on with Shane. He was practically vibrating with excitement.

“Holy, holy shit,” He said, gasping for breath. “I think I heard her. I think I heard her!”

“Yeah?” Shane laughed, catching Ryan’s hands in his. “What did she say?”

“I don’t know,” Ryan was beaming, entwining his fingers with Shane’s without even thinking about it. “God, something like, ‘stay safe’. Did she mean you?”

“Probably,” Shane shrugged, letting Ryan’s exhilaration infect him, extinguish the potential for evil deep in his chest.

“This day will go down in history,” Ryan crowed, voice echoing across the dark parking lot. “The day Ryan Steven Bergara SPOKE TO A GHOST! I WAS RIGHT! SHANE WAS WRONG!”

“Shane was lying,” He felt the need to defend himself, but it went unnoticed, between Ryan punching the air with one hand and flipping him off with the other.

“GHOSTS ARE REAL, AMERICA! IT’S ALL REAL! FUCK YOU, SHANE!”

Day 760

He was lying face-down in the grass, nose pressed awkwardly into the dirt. It was wet with dew; he could feel the cold seeping into his bones, and he pushed himself upright.

It was San Diego, but also…not. The house was there, but the grass was grey, the sky was grey – the landscape around him swirled with mist, with a sense of existential dread. The dew clung to everything: the grass, his bare arms, his hair, the house.

Slowly, carefully, he got to his feet. The door of the house swung open on creaking hinges, revealing nothing but darkness inside. It…beckoned.

He remembered the century he’d spent, nothing but an incorporeal evil hiding in an attic, and he stumbled backwards.

“No,” He said, in a raw, croaking voice. “I – I can’t. I don’t have to.”

The door slammed against the wall, its message clear: eventually.

“I won’t,” He said again, and turned and ran into the mist, but even as he did he was somehow standing in the forest around the Alton Bridge, trees stretching for miles, branches overhead blocking out the sky and the sunlight, just him-

He flung himself upright in the dark, knocking his pillow aside and tangling in vaguely damp sheets. He dragged in lungfuls of air, clutching at the neck of his sweat-soaked t-shirt and trying desperately to remember Los Angeles, his job, his friends, Ryan.

Speaking of,

“Shane? What’s going on?” A voice came from beside him. Ryan was sitting up, blinking sleep from his eyes.

“I’m fine,” Shane said gruffly, not looking him in the eye. “Go back to sleep.”

“Whoa, I don’t think so, bud,” Ryan said, scooching forwards with the sheets rucked up around his waist. “Shane, you’re crying.”

“I’m fine,” Shane insisted, body betraying him; it shook with fear and bitterness, it exuded salt water so anyone who saw him would know how weak he was, and honestly, fuck crying.

“Did you have a nightmare?” Ryan asked, reaching out and pressing a hand to his back. “What the hell could scare a demon?”

“I was nothing,” Shane said, the words tearing themselves from him in desperation, a desire to finally reach out and let someone understand his very core without care for the consequences. “I had nothing, Ryan, I was alone and angry and – it was all a distraction, a fucking distraction. I was just passing the time until, I don’t fucking know, I could figure out how to die. I didn’t feel anything , like - like nothing was real. You changed everything, you’ve changed me-” He gestured to the sweat soaking his shirt, the pyjama bottoms with shaking hands, “And I don’t ever want to go back, please don’t make me go back to that attic and the silence and the cold-” It was the longest this mouth had ever talked for, the longest any mouth of his had ever talked for.

“Shane – Shane,” Ryan moved his hand to the back of his - his - neck, thumb rubbing up and down the clammy skin and interrupting his tirade. “You don’t have to. You’re here now. You don’t have to go back.”

“I can’t. I never thought I could ever, ever feel like this, in 600 years.” Shane shook his head, frantically, almost involuntarily. “I need you.”

He looked up, and felt the tension electrifying the room, the hand on the back of his neck, saw how Ryan’s eyes were wide with the magnitude of his confessions. He acted on a compulsion he didn’t think he’d felt before, and he reached over and kissed him; awkwardly, his nose mashing into his cheek. He could taste salt, and Ryan’s toothpaste, and his own desperation. He felt Ryan stiffen, and he drew back immediately.

“Oh fuck, I’m sorry, I couldn’t – I don’t expect anything from you, at all, I swear, I slipped up, just-”

“Hang on, Shane,” Ryan interrupted. “Hang on, just, let me-”

And Ryan lurched forward and kissed him back, achieving a far better angle, threading his hands into Shane’s hair and tilting his head so he could lick into his mouth. Shane groaned, dizzy with the opportunity to taste that smile, hands automatically flying up to cup Ryan’s face. Ryan broke the kiss and pulled himself upright, kneeling opposite him and kissing him again from above in a way that made his brain short-circuit.

He was painfully cognizant of how thin his shirt was, of Ryan’s bare legs folded underneath him. He heard his own lungs heave for breath as Ryan dug his fingers into his scalp, deepening the kiss. Lights and colours were bursting behind his eyelids as he ran his hands up Ryan’s back under his shirt, close enough to bite into the soft skin just under his ribcage, to – to climb inside him, and walk around in Ryan’s skin and finally understand what it meant to be like him you’re being weird again-

He broke away, breath coming in ragged gasps, blinking heavily. “I’m gonna go, and I’m gonna change this shirt,” He mumbled, picking awkwardly at his sweaty t-shirt. “And then I’m coming back. Yeah?”

“Yeah, yeah, that’s – that’s good.” Ryan said breathlessly, sitting back on his haunches and watching Shane trip over the pillow still lying on the floor. The nightmare was forgotten.

Day 778

The demon dreamt. He dreamt of a woman with dark eyes and rich hair, somehow impossibly tall, smiling at him. He dreamt of stepping out a shadowed doorway into the California sun, and letting the warmth soak into his eyelids. He dreamt that he was human again, that he could bleed red just like Ryan did.

Shane got up in the middle of the night, and he caught the bus to San Diego, and he burned the house to the ground. He watched the flames lick at the wreckage until the sun cracked the sky grey over the horizon, and the city in the distance began to wake up, and he felt nothing. Not the old feeling nothing, the bad kind. A new, better kind.

He got back in the early light of the morning, and Ryan didn’t ask him where he’d been – he knew he smelt the smoke on his clothes, and he thought he had an idea, but he appreciated Ryan letting him have this to himself. He made coffee, and he threw the smoky clothes in the wash, and he smiled at Ryan when he smiled at him.

Day - he didn’t fucking know anymore. It didn’t even matter, he’d lost track, he’d gone under.

What does it mean to be human? The woman asked him.

I don’t know, Shane shrugged. He could hear the sound of rain on a rooftop, somewhere in the distance.

Come on, you dingus, think about it.

I guess…to be human is to feel fear. To love.

Well, you have been afraid. You love Ryan. What does that make you?

I don’t know, Shane said again. I guess I’m just Shane.

“Hey, Shane?” Ryan said, pulling Shane from his half-doze. He unpeeled his face from the car window, looking out the windshield to where the city lights blazed in the distant dark, and then across to Ryan.

“Yeah?” Shane straightened up, feeling his back crack. It was raining, for once in California, on the highway back into the city, but the car was quiet and warm inside. He blinked heavily, sleep still dragging at the edges of his vision. It was a new sensation, but still nice.

“I think.” Ryan swallowed hard, staring pointedly out at the road and the storm, in the early hours of the morning. “I think I might be in love with you too.”

“Oh.” Shane looked up at the road, and then down at his feet crammed under the dashboard. “What – what does it feel like?”

“Jesus. I don’t know. I just - want you to stick around. And be happy. With me. I don’t know.” His fingers tapped anxiously on the steering wheel as he huffed a breath. “It feels like…like you round me out. You keep me sane. When you went back to San Diego, I really fucking missed you. And your – stupid sloth face. Sorry. I love your face. I love you. Sorry.”

“Okay,” Shane turned his – his – hands over and noted the map of the veins in the backs of the hands that he knew by heart, felt the vibrations of the engine through his feet as it carried them through the rain towards home. He looked back up at Ryan, at the shadows cast across his golden skin in the half-light of the highway. “I love you, too.”

“For a demon, right?” Ryan’s knuckles on the steering wheel were practically white, belying the easy way he asked the question.

“Nah. Just for anyone. I get it now.” And Ryan broke into a wide, beaming smile, enough to illuminate the storm outside, to make Shane forget the blazing house in the suburbs forever. In the distance, beyond the city, the sun was beginning to peek above the horizon and turn the bottom of the clouds grey. Morning was coming.

END.